Read Full Transcript EXPAND
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anyone hear the slogan “Mike Will Get It Done”?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Mike Bloomberg rises as a serious challenger in the Democratic primary and qualifies for his first debate. I speak to his senior campaign
adviser, Tim O’Brien.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That’s the big unknown about this virus is how long is it going to last.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Reality hits home for an American with the coronavirus. Now, what might the epidemic mean for China’s leaders and for the world economy.
I asked veteran China correspondent, John Pomfret.
And recognizing creeping authoritarianism in our own backyard. Ana Cabrera speaks to Yale historian, Timothy Schneider.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
It’s a banner day for Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign as he soars to the top ranks of the national polls and qualifies for his first
Democratic debate. According to the latest NPR/CBS News out poll, Bloomberg is in second place nationally. But the political press is flooded with
headlines about his crime policies, like stop and frisk, that disproportionately targeted black men when he was mayor of New York, about
allegations of sexist comments and about his limitless war chest.
After decades of underwriting liberal policies on gun control, climate, health and education and political candidates, including many women,
Bloomberg is funding his own campaign to the tune of $400 million and counting.
So, what does it mean to be so rich in a race where other leading candidates are targeting billionaires? Timothy O’Brien is a senior adviser
for the Bloomberg 2020 campaign and he’s joining me from Sacramento, California.
Welcome to the program.
TIMOTHY O’BRIEN, SENIOR ADVISER, BLOOMBERG 2020 CAMPAIGN: It’s a privilege, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So, Timothy O’Brien, this is actually a major turning point. You know, we’ve had Mayor Mike, as he likes to call himself, declare he’s been
doing all these things, spending lots and lots of money, but now comes the first public test on a debate stage with everybody painting a target on his
back. I just introduced this with the money issue. How are you going to — what do you expect when it comes to, you know, asking the question that I
O’BRIEN: Well, you know, we’re looking forward to having Mike on that debate stage. I think it’s good for the American voters to see him
surrounded by the other people we’re complaining against. I think there’s been a dialogue around this campaign that Mike has surged simply because
we’re spending a lot of money on ads, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
You know, we’ve got a massive ground operation. We’ve got about 2,100 people nationally, we’re in 45 states and territories. He’s been in 24
states, I’ve been in 12. We’re in people’s communities and I think they have gotten to know Mike and the totality of his record as mayor, the
things he’s accomplished in his life as a self-made businessman, a philanthropist and a public servant, he’s gotten enormous traction with
voters and that’s why the needle has moved, and we’re just going to continue on that course.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to play a soundbite from one of his opponents, obviously, Senator Amy Klobuchar. She was on CNN State of the Union program
this Sunday and this is what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he has to come on a show like yours here, Dana. He has not gone on any Sunday show since
he announced. I’ve got to answer questions like I just did on my record and he has to do the same thing. I don’t think he should be able to hide behind
airwaves and huge ad buys.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, there are two points there. One is come publicly and defend your policies and sell your policies. The other is don’t hide behind, you
know, the hundreds of millions of dollars that he’s bought ads with.
Now, you say that nothing could be further from the truth. Very few people believe that. Most people, whether they support his candidacy or not, say
that it is only because of that money that he has put himself in such high visibility. How can you argue with that?
O’BRIEN: Well, I would argue with it because it’s clear that the idea that not many people believe that is held only, I think, right now by the
national media. The fact is that voters totally believe it. Mike wouldn’t be surging in the polls if he was hiding “behind ads.” Mike has far more
governing experience than anyone else campaigning in this race, including Senator Klobuchar, who we admire. She’s a great public servant, but she’s a
Mike has actually governed a very complex, large city, done it with a plum, with some mistakes, but net-net, he’s regarded as one of the best mayors
ever in the City of New York. He’s been in the public sphere for decades. He hasn’t hidden behind anything. And he’s done scores of interviews across
the country, television, print.
So, we’re out in public and voters know it and they have an affinity for him because I think they understand that the 2020 campaign is ultimately
going to be a referendum on competence and character. And Donald Trump is sorely lacking in both of those categories and Mike Bloomberg has those
qualities in abundance.
AMANPOUR: Let me just quickly ask you about demeanor. I’ve obviously interviewed him many, many times and he is a very blunt man. I mean, he is
a self-made billionaire. He’s also, as you point out, been a successful city executive, and he has put his money where his mouth is, on policies.
But he also can be pretty impatient when you ask him a question that he doesn’t particularly like or he thinks it’s ill-informed or whatever. How
is that going to serve him when he’s up on the debate stage with all of these people who are going to do their best to rile him up and with a press
that’s going to do — or whoever the moderators are, their best to, you know, treat him like they’ve treated all the other candidates?
O’BRIEN: Well, you know, Mike is ready for that. We — Mike is who he is. He’s an enormously talented compassionate man who is extremely tough-minded
when it comes to solving problems. He’s impatient about solving problems. Every single core policy issue that American voters care about right now,
affordable housing, health care, education, jobs, the guns crisis, the climate crisis, he has a track record on all of these that none of the
competitors compare to.
And he’s been able to solve those problems because he’s tough-minded, because he’s blunt, because he’s impatient and because he’s a deeply
committed and compassionate public servant. That is who Mike Bloomberg is. We’re looking forward to voters seeing that.
AMANPOUR: So, the other thing that many people are talking about, and it’s not just the press as you know, and, you know, it’s haunted some other
candidates, but it is the stop and frisk policy that was part of his — you know, his campaign as mayor. When I spoke to him about this not so long ago
at the Climate Summit in Madrid, he actually basically apologized. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLOOMBERG: It was our policy. In the end it turned out we were using it too aggressively. And when we cut it back, it didn’t have the effect we
thought crime would go up, it didn’t, it went down. And so, we reduced it by 95 percent and I said I’m sorry, I was wrong and I’m sorry. After that,
I don’t know what else to tell you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You see, there he goes again, I’m sorry and after that I don’t know what to tell you. So, it’s like take my apology or, you know, take the
high road. And some people have said, you know, that apology rings hollow.
O’BRIEN: I think, you know, he’s been apologizing for this repeatedly, the campaign will apologize for it. I think stop and frisk was a bad policy
that traumatized people of color and Mike stood by it for too long. I think he owes it to communities of color to prove through his actions going
forward that he feels deeply apologetic for it.
And having said that, I think stop and frisk clearly doesn’t represent the totality of his time as mayor. We would not have current and former mayors
of color and public elected officials, members of Congress of color endorsing this campaign but for the fact that they know that Mike Bloomberg
lowered the incarceration rate for juveniles of color, lowered the incarceration rate dramatically overall while he was mayor.
He diversified the NYPD. He developed model programs of outreach to vulnerable children of color. The Barack Obama model My Brother’s Keeper
on. He had the most progressive immigration policy of any big-city mayor.
And yes, he had stop and frisk, which was an egregious mistake. But it does not define who he is. And I think there’s an effort now to define him by
stop and frisk because we’re in a campaign season. But the people who know him know better and voters of color, incidentally, have been responding to
We are surging in the polls in communities of color. They are focusing on things like the Greenwood Initiative, which is the most progressive
substantial proposal for addressing economic and social inequality in black communities across the country that any campaign has put on the table.
AMANPOUR: And he’s, also, today or your campaign today was unveiled a new sort of criminal justice proposals, which are aimed at building on what you
said, like reducing incarceration rates, making much less disparity in this really very unfair criminal justice system which it comes to blacks and
people of color. Explain that. Explain what else is envisioned.
O’BRIEN: Well, you know, I think one of the most, you know, abuse of an unfortunate pieces of public policy to come out in the United States was
the 1994 crime bill. And I think it had a horrible impact on low income communities of color and clearly on prisoners themselves, because it was
such an oppressive policy. And it was a policy that competitors of ours in this race, like Bernie Sanders, embraced wholeheartedly.
I think Mike is showing in this criminal justice reform policy that he understands where the in equities lie in the criminal justice system, the
bold and compassionate and important measures that need to be taken to make sure that criminal justice reform improves the lives of people in low
income communities, and particularly lower income communities of color.
We have not seen proposals this bold come out of the Sanders campaign. And we would be interested to see Bernie Sanders held accountable for the ’94
crime bill to the same extent that stop and frisk has been a subject of important scrutiny, as it should be for Mike.
AMANPOUR: So, let’s move on to the women issue. I mean, again, you know, this has come up over and again, there’s been an article in the “Washington
Post” about, you know, certain comments. Mike Bloomberg has called them body jokes, some of the more, you know, pointed accusations, he’s
blatantly, you know, fully denied. But how do you think this is going to affect, A, what other candidates are going to sort of, you know, rain down
on him, and B, his electability amongst women?
O’BRIEN: Well, I think there’s — again, I think there’s — I think over the last week, you know, these are questions that came up when Mike ran for
mayor of New York. They’ve come up over the last few years. These aren’t new questions. Voters in New York put them aside because most of the
accusations did not involve him personally. We want to take them on, specifically in the #MeToo era.
You know, we feel as a campaign that #MeToo is a healthy development. Women have been held back in the workplace and in politics and in social life for
far too long by men who are either crass, unfeeling or predatory, like for example, Donald Trump himself.
Mike Bloomberg is not that person. What’s come out over the last weekend are sort of in two, you know, categories. There’s this issue of a gag book
of jokes that was given to him 30 years ago, jokes he did not write that had very offensive and gross jokes about women in them.
He didn’t say any of those things and he didn’t write the gag book. But the press is pulling quotes out of that book as if they’re quotes out of Mike
Bloomberg’s mouth. He has repeatedly denied saying them. We will continue to say that. But the media is sort of having a field day with that and it’s
obviously helping research from Mike’s competitors.
The other set of issues here are the sexual harassment claims that came in to Bloomberg L.P. Again, we think it’s a very healthy development that
women in the workplace have the tools they need to defend themselves if they’re being treated abusively in the workplace. There are dozens of those
lawsuits and the press has had headlines saying Mike Bloomberg accused by 45 women of sexual harassment. Those lawsuits are targeted at Bloomberg
L.P. They are the defendant in those cases.
In none of those cases has Mike Bloomberg been accused personally of predatory behavior, in the ones that have come to light and that have been
adjudicated. In one case, Judge Prescott, who is a very prominent well- regarded female judge who is very tough on workplace harassment issues, found that the case lacked the evidence to go forward.
Mike’s actions also speak louder than these false lines that are being attributed to him. We have a campaign platform that is fully about
empowering women. Mike’s most important adviser on the campaign is Patti Harris, who was his deputy mayor, who is now the chairwoman of this
campaign. She’s been his righthand woman forever. Mike’s partner, Diana Taylor, is an incredibly accomplished woman, who has Mike’s other ear.
My boss on the campaign is Brynne Craig. I have a team of women running me every day, Christiane, and I grew up with five sisters who would kick me
every which way from now to Sunday if they thought that I was working for somebody who embraced sexual harassment.
AMANPOUR: So, you’ve obviously seen “The New York Times” reporting and “The Daily” podcast. They had a really interesting episode just recently
about Mike Bloomberg. And, you know, they point out that sort of never in the history of modern politics has money been used in such a way.
I mean, it’s just so there. But they also point out that he has spent it on things like, as I pointed out, gun control initiatives, climate, public
health. But also, in helping women’s campaigns. Tell me about that. Because they point out that, you know, with all this argument about money, you
know, they talk about well, you know, you can say that Trump is an oligarch, Mike is an oligarch but at least Democrats can say, he’s our
oligarch with our kind of policies. Do you buy that?
O’BRIEN: Well, Christiane, I know that you know this and I know this because we’ve covered actual oligarchs in Eastern Europe and Russia who
meet that definition. Mike Bloomberg clearly doesn’t. And I would remind people if they want to keep using that definition that oligarchs like
George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy played very positive roles in this country’s history.
I don’t think it’s unusual or untoward for someone of resources and substance to go into public service just like Franklin Roosevelt did. I
don’t think there’s anything wrong with success. No one holds Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey’s financial success against them.
Mike Bloomberg has said that he sees this election as the culmination of his life’s work and he’s using his resources to help bolster the Democratic
Party and he will support any candidate on the Democratic side who ultimately becomes the nominee, because he thinks, as we all do, that any
of them are better alternatives to Donald Trump.
But we do think that Mike Bloomberg is the most suited person to step into the White House and is the only person who is going to beat Donald Trump in
the fall. And as you pointed out, Mike has used his resources in the past to support non-rich guy things like climate change, gun violence. And in
2018, he was one of the most significant forces backing women, female Democrats who flipped Republican districts and helped turn the House blue.
And had the House not turned blue, Donald Trump would have never been impeached.
Mike Bloomberg’s wealth was a force for good in 2018, is a force for good in 2020, it’s going to be a force for good for decades to come. I think
he’s taken this incredible historical step at the most dangerous time in the United States political history. We have a corrupt incompetent,
unfeeling and dangerous steward in the Oval Office in the person of Donald Trump. And if Mike Bloomberg hadn’t gotten into this campaign, Democrats
would be pushed far back on their heels.
Right now, the DNC has about $8 million in its coffers. The RNC — Trump and the RNC have about $180. We expect them to spent about $9 million more,
Christiane. And if Mike’s resources weren’t present here in the ground right now, it would be very hard Democrats to compete.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you this, because you mentioned President Trump. When I last interviewed Mike Bloomberg, he said — and he kind of owns this
billionaire thing. He said, well — I said, you know, and a whole bunch of billionaires running, what’s going on here? He said, well, as far as I
know, I’m the only billionaire.
And I say this because obviously there’s been a huge amount of question about just how rich Donald Trump is. And you, yourself, when you were a
journalist, have done investigations into that. You wrote a book about Donald Trump in 2005, reporting that his net worth was actually around $150
to $250 million, and Donald Trump sued you claiming that he was a billionaire. You saw some of the financial records. As you know, all these
years later, 15 years later, his records are a mystery, nobody has seen his tax returns.
AMANPOUR: I don’t know what you’re able to tell us, but how does one compete in this arena when you don’t see all the paperwork?
O’BRIEN: Well, to begin with, you know, Donald Trump has broken a tradition that’s gone back to every president dating to Gerald Ford, which
is voluntarily releasing their tax returns so American voters know the president of the United States isn’t financially compromised by domestic
forces or — and I think more importantly in the moment we’re in now, foreign governments or foreign influencers who make the president more
concerned about his wallet than about sound and ethical public policymaking.
I saw Donald Trump’s tax returns in the course of our litigation, litigation he lost, by the way. You know, I’ve covered Donald Trump going
back to 1990. Mike Bloomberg and I are both New Yorkers, we’re very familiar with how Donald Trump rolls. Mike has never been confused about
who Donald Trump knows. He knows Donald Trump is a con man and a cartoon figure who should not have his hand on the nuclear button or public policy
at the federal level because he’s an unhinged narcissist.
And a Donald Trump who gets past the Robert Mueller investigation, gets past the congressional impeachment inquiry and then gets reelected this
year is going to be an unfettered Donald Trump. And a lot of the institutions and values we hold dear as Americans are going to be
completely undermined by him and his team. And I think that’s what really animates Mike’s entrance into the race.
AMANPOUR: Very, very quickly because we’ve run out of time, will Mike Bloomberg release his tax returns and all the paperwork that is traditional
in a presidential race?
O’BRIEN: Mike will release his tax returns. Mike Bloomberg will also sell Bloomberg L.P. There will be no confusion about any of his financial
holdings blurring the line between public service and personal profiteering. We will be 180 degrees away from where Donald Trump is on
these issues, because Donald Trump is a walking financial conflict of interest.
AMANPOUR: Timothy O’Brien, senior campaign adviser, thank you so much indeed for joining me.
Now, as we’ve just said, the Democratic campaign to replace President Trump begs a more critical question, just how healthy is American democracy.
Since Donald Trump was acquitted by the Senate, many have speculated that he would be emboldened or as you just heard, unfettered, not chasten.
Yale University’s Timothy Snyder is a historian and author devoting much of his career to understanding the rise tyranny in different parts of the
world. And he sat down with our contributor, Ana Cabrera, to discuss his concerns about the trend taking route in the United States.
ANA CABRERA: You have devoted so much of your studying, your teaching, your writings to understanding the rise of fascism and tyranny in
different parts of the world. You’re sounding the alarm about what you are seeing here in the U.S. right now. How concerned are you about America’s
TIMOTHY SNYDER, AUTHOR, “ON TYRANNY”: I think I’m the right amount of concerned. When America’s democracy was founded in the late 18th century by
people we revere, it wasn’t founded on the idea that Americans were a special people. It was founded on the idea that tyranny is easy and
democracy and republics are hard.
The whole system was set up to prevent one man or one party from accumulating all the power. That system has been tested for more than 200
years. It’s been seriously tested now. But I think I’m the right amount of worried because everybody should be worried to be a citizen in a democracy
is to understand that you have to take a certain amount of risk yourself. The system doesn’t sustain itself on its own.
CABRERA: Can you talk about what it is that concerns you the most?
SNYDER: Absolutely. Well, in the last few weeks, as we watched the impeachment and the impeachment trial unfold, we’ve seen challenges to the
basic founding documents of our country. The whole idea of the Declaration of Independence is that no man is above the law. The reason why
independence was declared by the colonies was that King George was breaking established rules, established contracts. But the underlying principle was
that everyone should be governed by the law.
Mr. Trump’s defense in the impeachment trial was precisely that he is above the law, that whatever he says is the law, that we should wait and see what
he says and then adapt the law to that. That is precisely what tyrants over the centuries and authoritarians over the last century have always said.
Our second basic founding document, the constitution, is basically a design how to prevent someone from becoming a tyrant. It assumes if we have three
parts of the government, they will balance each other. But what we saw unfold in the impeachment trial was the opposite. The Congress gave way and
then Justice Roberts also gave way. So, at the end of it we have a much, much stronger executive claiming nearly absolute power, which is something
that the founders precisely were trying to prevent.
CABRERA: You say Justice Roberts gave way. How did he give way?
SNYDER: Well, I’ve been doing an old-fashioned thing which is actually reading the text of the constitution, and according to the constitution,
the chief justice presides, that is to say he’s in charge. The senators are meant to be jurors. What Chief Justice Roberts allowed to happen was that
jurors decided that they could do things like say how they are going to vote in advance, that the jurors could decide to do things like not listen
to evidence, that the jurors they could decide basically the shape of a trial.
If you’re in a small claims court or if you’re in a divorce court or if you’re in any kind of court in the United States, those kinds of principles
where the judge just gives up would be unthinkable. So, basically, what we saw was a trial that wasn’t a trial. And so, both in the forum and in the
outcome, the Supreme Court ends up being marginalized and not just the Congress.
CABRERA: Trump has been impeached. He’s been acquitted. And since all of that he’s gone on to fire two of the witnesses who testified during the
impeachment process. One of them being Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a purple heart recipient and military veteran. And he, you’ll
recall, testified during the House impeachment process that he felt it was his duty to respond to a subpoena, to speak the truth.
And his lawyer said in a statement, the truth has now cost Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman his job, his career and his privacy. He did what
any member of our military is charged with doing every day. He followed orders, he obeyed his oath and he served his country, even when doing so
was fraught with danger and personal peril, and for that, the most powerful man in the world buoyed by the silent, the pliable and the complicit has
decided to exact revenge.
And Tim, the president didn’t even try to suggest this was anything other than revenge. And now, Trump is saying the military should look into
potentially disciplining Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. What does this tell you?
SNYDER: Well, it tells me three things. I mean, personally, about Mr. Trump, it tells me that his desire to protect himself, his ego, his
appearance, his sense of being right is bottomless. Because if there’s anything that you should hold back from doing, it’s from punishing someone
like Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.
The second thing it tells me or rather remind me is how important the lines of authority actually are even within the Executive Branch. We have never
had a system where the president instructs the military what rules should be followed in terms of military justice. So, even within the Executive
Branch there’s some lines that are very important.
The third thing, though, that it calls up to me is a memory of what purges are like. Because that, of course, is what is happening. People who refuse
to toe the line, a line of fiction, a line which said that Ukraine plotted against the United States and not Russia, a line that said a server was in
Ukraine, which has never been the case, a line which said that Ukraine was corrupting us when we were trying to corrupt Ukraine, in fact, under the
Trump administration, a line which was false, a set of statements which were clearly false and which Republican senators also know to be false.
That you don’t follow a line like that and then get purged, that’s what happens in authoritarian systems — or rather in totalitarian systems.
CABRERA: And what else is playing out this week within the Justice Department in the Roger Stone case, in which we now have four prosecutors
who are part of that case who have withdrawn from that case, two of them resigned from their office altogether after they were undercut, after
giving their sentencing recommendation. They were undercut by senior members of the DOJ after the president publicly complained about the
sentencing that they were recommending.
In fact, you know, he’s a friend of Roger Stone and he clearly showed how he felt the outcome was unfair. That was according to him. What
implications could this have?
SNYDER: Well, there are two major ones. I mean, one that we’re already beginning to forget is just how deep and long lasting the consequences are
when a foreign power plays around with American elections. So, people like Roger Stone or, for that matter, Mr. Trump, who was both involved and as a
beneficiary, are naturally going to be affected by the fact that a foreign power was involved.
The fact that Russia mattered in 2016, that Mr. Stone helped Russia to matter in 2016, that Mr. Trump did as well, affects what they do in 2020
and for the rest of their lives. So, this is one more argument for trying to make our democracy sovereign, rather than something who is open to
international money and international influence.
But the second and even more important implication is that this is a direct attack on the rule of law. The basic idea of our whole legal tradition is
that law comes before the individual person. And the more power you have, the more you have to respect that principle.
If you’re in Mr. Trump’s position, what he’s done is the very last thing that he ought to be doing. And this is a basic principle of our system.
Without the rule of law, nothing else is possible, including freedom, including all the other values which people, Republican, Democrat,
independent or whatever they might be, say are important.
CABRERA: What role does the media play? Because we obviously help determine what is news and then we amplify that to make sure the
information gets out to the public. Are we partially to blame and what do we do about that?
SNYDER: I think the basic problem we have with the media is that we don’t have enough media that actually searches or hunts down, create and record
facts. What we don’t have are enough reporters. We don’t have people covering local news.
We don’t have enough independent editorial boards on local newspapers who would be giving their own independent opinion about impeachment that might
be different from opinions coming out of New York or Washington or out of the two — the two political parties.
We don’t have enough creation of enough new material anymore, so we all get locked down in these emotional, polarizing debates where everything seems
So, I mean, the big media has made some mistakes, of course. Treating everything as about personality makes things easier on authoritarians, but
our big problem with the media is that we just don’t have enough facts.
CABRERA: Well, and, at this point, it also feels like the facts and truth doesn’t seem to matter. It doesn’t break through.
You look at “The Washington Post”‘s fact-checker, which shows the president has said more than 16,000 false or misleading statements since he’s been in
office. And yet the president continues to present what it is he wants people to believe. And he repeats it over and over and over again.
And his supporters specifically buy it. Why is that?
SNYDER: Since people first thought of democracy, we knew it would be hard, because human beings naturally want to hear what they want to hear.
And Mr. Trump is very good at telling people what they want to hear. And the Internet is basically a device for finding out what you want to hear
and giving it to you.
So, this is the same challenge that we have always had in a new form. And what it means is that you can’t be cynical. You can’t give up on the truth.
You can’t give up on facts. You have to say, I’m on the side of facts, because facts give us a chance to have deliberative democracy, give us a
chance to have law, gives us a chance to have decency and, for that matter, prosperity, because one of the things that I think the people who don’t
care about facts aren’t thinking about is that, ultimately, not just democracy, but functioning markets depend upon factuality.
And if we get rid of it completely, we’re going to have not only authoritarianism, but our prosperity will very soon be at risk as well.
CABRERA: The president communicates with a lot of slogans and mantras and things that are easy to remember. He gives his supporters something to
rally around, right, like make America great, like America first.
You say this is a form of politics of eternity, which started in Russia. Explain.
Well, with the slogans, it goes way back. I mean, the idea of the slogan like “Lock her up” or “Drain the swamp” is to get people rallied, so that
they think we’re in, they’re out, we’re the real nation, the other people are not the real nation, they’re corrupt, whatever it might be.
That’s older than Russia. That goes back to fascism and other kinds of authoritarianism.
By politics of eternity, I mean the kind of politics which we see very much the 21st century, where not much policy actually gets made. If you look at
Trump’s four years, there’s basically zero policy, in the sense of big laws that could affect people’s lives. The one big law is a tax cut for
corporations and the rich. And that’s not really policy. That’s just gravity.
That’s what happens when you do nothing. The politics of eternity is teaching people that politics is not about changing the world, politics is
just about characterizing the world. We’re good, they’re bad, we’re in, they’re out. And we know this because we say it to ourselves with these
persuasive and appealing slogans over and over and over again.
CABRERA: What do you think America’s adversaries, people like Putin, are thinking as they’re witnessing what’s happening right now in America?
SNYDER: We — I mean, we are helping Putin’s system last, because the whole justification for Mr. Putin’s system in Russia is that, sure, things
in Russia are corrupt, sure, we’re an oligarchy, sure, the media lie to you all the time, but look out at — look at other countries, it’s just the
Basically, what’s happened in the U.S. in the last four — three years confirms this. Our institutions, unfortunately, have become more and more
like the caricature which the — that the Russian media portrays them as being.
The impeachment trial is a very good example. You have the solemn picture of Justice Roberts talking about this being the supreme deliberative body
in the world, which is obviously, in the circumstances, a joke, right?
And making our institutions a joke is exactly what helps authoritarians like Mr. Putin survive. If there’s no example of things going better, it
makes their life much, much easier.
I mean, a big, sad thing which is happening is that there is no longer an American example. The American example has always been imperfect in many
ways, but there is now no longer an American example that dissidents in China or oppositionists in Hong Kong or journalists in Russia or Poland or
Hungary or wherever could point to, thanks to Mr. Trump.
CABRERA: We know that President Putin and Russia launched a disinformation campaign to interfere in the 2016 election here in the United States.
And the FBI director, Christopher Wray, just recently said they’re already seeing signs of Russia trying to interfere in the upcoming election.
But, this time, it’s not just Russia. And, according to a recent investigative report in “The Atlantic,” journalist McKay Coppins writes
that the Trump campaign and some of his domestic allies, partisan media, outside political groups, have begun to — quote — “adopt the same tactics
of information warfare that have kept the world’s demagogues and strongmen in power.”
What do you think we should be bracing for?
SNYDER: Well, this — I mean, this is what I was worried about way back in 2016 when I wrote “On Tyranny” and “Road to Unfreedom,” what — because
what Russia does is not particular to Russia.
What Russia does is how an oligarchy with a good understanding of the media stays in power. What you do is, you figure out what people want to hear,
not just by a leader’s instinct, but by way of technical tools, which, thanks to Facebook and Google, you can actually learn, and then you target
your messages to them.
And you don’t care that your messages are lies. In fact, it’s better if your messages are lies, because you want people to think that there’s not
really any truth and to just accept the story which sounds better.
So, what we can expect is, I think, a battle between what I think are the underlying political values. And I don’t think it’s about classes. I don’t
think it’s about — I think the underlying political values now are truth and falsehood, truth as the basis for policy, falsehood as the basis for
I think that’s — some variant of that is the real clash that’s going on, which doesn’t mean that that somebody is always good and somebody is always
bad. I just think that’s fundamentally the issue. The fundamental question is, can you win a campaign proposing policy based on facts against someone
whose basic idea is just to stir the pot with the most advanced technical tools possible and to rile people up?
That’s not an American dilemma now. That’s now a world dilemma. That’s everywhere. We’re, unfortunately, normal and no better than anybody else.
And if we face that fact and see what the challenge is, I still think we have a chance.
CABRERA: What do you see as the role of social media companies then to prevent some of that disinformation from getting through?
SNYDER: Yes, the social media companies have a big problem with the idea of responsibility.
I mean, what they think freedom is, is the freedom of a few individuals to do very well. But there’s a big, what the economists call externality,
there’s a big cost, which is that people’s average levels of knowledge are declining and people’s ability to engage with the world around them in
various ways is also in decline.
I think there has to be a rethink of social media, just as there was a rethink of the printing press and a rethink of radio and of every major new
communications technology, where responsibility in some form has to be injected back into the system.
I think it’s — I think it’s ludicrous for Facebook to present itself as just passing on what other people do. What Facebook does is, it amplifies
the authoritarian habit of looking for the emotion of fear. That’s what it does. That’s its design model.
It looks for what makes you anxious and fearful and makes you feel tribal and childish, right? It looks for that. It’s a tool that does that. That’s
it — that’s by design. So it has an inbuilt authoritarian bent.
If it wants to be neutral, it has to pull away from being authoritarian and make some changes to itself which support factuality, which could certainly
be done. We know some of the ways do that.
But, I mean, for me, the key word is responsibility. Whether you’re talking about foreign actors like Russia or domestic actors, the platforms, with
their guise of just being neutral, are what make it all possible. Without the platforms, this couldn’t happen.
CABRERA: As you know, there are a lot of Americans who don’t just accept the status quo. They’re very engaged in democracy and this election that’s
I see a lot of hashtag resist online and people calling themselves the resistance. In this way, is it a productive use of their advocacy for
American democracy, or do you feel like it’s misguided?
SNYDER: I think the word resist is good, because it calls attention to the fact that what’s happening isn’t just a change of policy, but a change of
We are living through a slow regime change in the U.S. towards some kind of more authoritarian oligarchy. And so, regardless of our positions on
individual policies or statements of the president, we can say, I would like to resist that general tendency. I don’t want authoritarianism. I want
That’s a start. But, of course, in the end, it’s more important to know what you’re for and to be able to say what you’re for. I’m for this kind of
education in the classroom. I’m for freedom of speech for humans, but not for digital beings who don’t have souls.
I’m for economic inequality, which gives people a chance to imagine a better future. I’m for a system where everybody actually does have one
vote, and there’s no voter suppression, and so on and so forth.
So, I don’t — I think the idea of resistance is fine, because it calls attention to the drama of the moment and is a dramatic moment. But, at the
end of the day, you also have to have a notion of what liberty and what law and what these values actually look like, so that you’re not just letting
the people who are changing the regime in the wrong way call the shots and define the concepts.
CABRERA: Professor Timothy Snyder, I really, really appreciate this conversation. Thank you so much.
SNYDER: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, whoever wins the presidency in 2020 is sure to face unexpected and possibly cataclysmic crises, like the challenges the current
The death toll from the disease is nearing 2,000, as China remains on lockdown, with some 780 million people living under some form of
restrictive movement there.
As cases of the virus are confirmed in more than two dozen countries now, the outbreak is taking its toll on the economy in China and around the
My guest John Pomfret spent years covering China as “Washington Post” bureau chief there in Beijing, and he is the author of “The Beautiful
Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present.” And he’s joining me from Oakland, California. Also joining me is medical
correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. And she is in Tel Aviv.
So, thank you both, because I want to talk about the health issue and the really interesting political issue that’s sort of circumscribes all of this
So, first to you, Elizabeth.
Just give us an update, because you have got the WHO saying a vaccine is still many, many, many months away from even being sort of tested. You have
got all this debate over what quarantine does and doesn’t, and all these people still on the boats and some getting infected.
Just where are we with the speed and rate of this infection now, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, Christiane, this infection is still spreading. No one thinks it’s going to slow down in
any serious way very soon.
As you mentioned, the virus is far away. First, they have to develop — a vaccine, rather. A vaccine has to be developed, first of all. And,
actually, that’s the quick and easy part, relatively speaking. Then they have to test it. And testing it, by definition, takes months and months,
because you want to make sure that it’s not going to cause problems.
You have to test it for safety and efficacy. That takes quite a while. Now, you made a reference to the ships. One of the thoughts was that, hey, let’s
keep people on the ships for 14 days, and that will be their 14-day quarantine.
Well, that didn’t work out so well. The infection actually spread on the ships. One of the issues and probably the big issue is that the crews were
not quarantined. They had to do their work. They had to do the laundry and make the foods and keep the boat running.
And, of course, they were working with each other. And then they would go to the staterooms to deliver the clean laundry and the food. So that —
those quarantines did not work out well, to say the least.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, John Pomfret, because everybody is sort of trying to find all sorts of different strands to this story.
And it’s very, very interesting what you write about the political leadership in Beijing. This, you say, is a massive challenge to the
authority of President Xi and his whole sort of — his whole policy as president. Tell me what you mean.
JOHN POMFRET, FORMER “WASHINGTON POST” BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: So, you see – – I mean, basically, my belief is that this is the biggest challenge that the Communist Party has faced since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations
that resulted in the June 4, 1989, crackdown.
And Xi’s version of — I mean, I think that you basically have two strains within the Chinese Communist Party. One is an extremely heavy-handed
authoritarianism, which is practiced by Xi Jinping. And the other is a lighter form of authoritarianism, which might have been practiced by some
of his successors.
And this is a significant challenge to the type of very tough authoritarianism that Xi Jinping has practiced over the last seven years,
since he took rule of the Communist Party.
And you see it reflected in some of the statements he’s made about how he’s been out in front in dealing with the virus and how he’s been leading China
in its attempt to cope with the virus. They’re almost defensive, which you rarely see from a Chinese communist ruler.
AMANPOUR: It is also the question about when — what did he know and when did he know it? When did he really know what was going on?
He addressed the Chinese people for the lunar new year, and he said; “Progress will not be halted by any storms and tempests.”
And as he was speaking, the government was locking down Wuhan, and we didn’t know that. He made no mention of it. And you have reported about the
Health Commission there issuing an order. That was at the end of December. And then, between mid-January, the Municipal Health Commission announced
that there was no new cases. Meanwhile, the virus was raging.
What was going on? What — I mean, what was happening with the spread of essential misinformation?
POMFRET: Well, the generally accepted timeline now is that the first cases of the virus popped up actually in relatively early December.
And the genome of the virus was analyzed by late December. Interestingly enough, Xi Jinping has recently come out — the party released a secret
speech of Xi Jinping from January 7, in which he chaired a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee in which the virus was spoken of.
And so now we have basically a 40-day gap, January 7, to the moment when Xi Jinping basically declared a national emergency. During that period of
time, as you said, he chaired — he gave a speech about the — welcoming in the Year of the Rat.
He did a variety of other public meetings, but he didn’t mention the virus late — until late in January and early February. And so the question is —
and then, of course, with the Wuhan lockdown happening, there was a large period of time where the party did — had not mobilized China to deal with
And it’s very similar in a way to what happened 17 years ago with the SARS epidemic, which erupted in December in Guangdong province, but was not
dealt with until March of the following year.
AMANPOUR: It really is extraordinary.
Let me turn back again to Elizabeth Cohen.
As we just said leading into this segment, something like 780 million Chinese people — I mean, just think about that — that’s like double the
population of the entire United States — are living under some kind of restriction right now.
Give us a sense of what that means for the spread of the disease, as far as you know, but, also, what about the fatality rate? What do we know about
COHEN: You know, Christiane, I’m going to take the second one first.
What we know about the fatality rate is that it appears to be 2 percent at the highest. It is probably less than 2 percent. And the reason for that is
that the Chinese health authorities have calculated this 2 percent, but the number of cases is probably much higher than anyone thinks.
So, once you have a higher number of cases, that shifts your fraction, right? That shifts your rate. That makes the fatality rate go down. So it’s
2 percent at the highest, and that’s actually relatively low compared to other coronaviruses.
Another coronavirus, which John made mention of, is SARS. That has — or had a fatality rate of about 10 percent. MERS, the Middle East Respiratory
Syndrome, that had a fatality rate of about 35 percent.
So, this fatality rate is relatively low. And what we do know is that people who are older and people who have underlying health conditions seem
to be more vulnerable. But we are also seeing healthy young people without underlying conditions die from this disease.
And it needs to be sorted out what’s going on here. As far as the lockdowns and the travel restrictions that you mentioned first, that’s such a huge
number of people living in China. The experts that I have spoken with have said it’s a good — it’s a — it could be helpful.
It is — it could be a helpful thing that this was done. It is better than having people flying all over the place or driving and traveling all over
the place. But it doesn’t mean that it contained it. It doesn’t mean that, once they made those restrictions, OK, we’re all right, the virus isn’t
going to spread around anymore.
It may have helped slow the spread down a bit, but it certainly didn’t stop the spread, by any means.
AMANPOUR: As a public health expert, I mean, you have just given us these stark numbers, the difference between the fatality rate of MERS and SARS
compared to this, that they were much higher.
And yet I don’t know whether to call it hysteria or what. Certainly, from outsiders looking at it and reporting it, and maybe even the reaction
inside China with this massive lockdown, it’s so different. The reaction is so different this time than last time. Why is that?
COHEN: Well, but you know what? Because the total number of deaths has actually been higher from this new coronavirus, when you compare it to
And the reason is, there’s so many more cases. So, even though the death rate is lower, you’re seeing more deaths. And I think that’s what’s really
This seems — and I say seems because there’s so much we don’t know about this virus — it seems that this virus may be more transmissible than SARS.
So, there is reason for concern. There’s no reason for hysteria. Hysteria is always bad.
But there certainly is reason for concern.
AMANPOUR: John, back to you, because the whole of the country sort of is circumscribed by Xi Jinping, the president’s view, vision and program.
And you have obviously written — and you just alluded to it — the sort of different strains within the Communist Party. You have talked about reds
vs. the technocrats, or the ideologues vs. the people who know how to get things done.
And under Xi, you say that it’s kind of the ideologues who are in the ascendant. Tell me about that, and how that matters at a time like this.
POMFRET: Well, he’s created a system where he’s put into positions of authority people who are loyal to him.
And, obviously, all political leaders want to do that. But loyalty has become really the sole coin of political discourse in — on the political
side of the ledger in China.
Obviously, on the expert side of the ledger, in the Health Commission, on the health departments, you have people, real experts who are doing their
jobs, and, actually, they have done their jobs relatively well.
But the problem is, on the political side, because he has all these acolytes, these basically bootlickers, who are completely afraid of doing
anything without his approval, it creates the potential for a real disaster should a crisis such as this strike.
And I think that’s what — that’s the type of whirlwind China’s reaping now. There was — there was a previous model of a more collective
leadership-type system, which, once Xi got into power in 2012, he completely destroyed.
AMANPOUR: But is he changing that at all? Is he bringing more experts to the fore to deal at least with this?
POMFRET: Well, that’s really going to be the interesting question.
I think the question — some people in the West talk about this moment, the coronavirus in China, as kind of China’s Chernobyl, if you will, where it
really exposes the system for what it is and begins to lay the foundation for the destruction of that system.
I think what you possibly could see as a fallout from this — from this tragedy is a return to a more collective leadership, where Xi Jinping is
forced to become the — a leader among equals within the Standing Committee of the Politburo. He’s forced to take — become less of the Mao Zedong-type
character that he wants to be, and more of a more equitable leader amongst the top of the — top levels of the Communist Party.
That’s probably the most significant political fallout we can expect. Anyone who thinks that this is the beginning of the end of China’s system,
I think, is exaggerating.
AMANPOUR: And just to talk about the kind of prejudice that is being shown now in many parts of the world towards Asians and Chinese, I mean, we have
seen here in London that Chinese restaurants aren’t as thriving as they were, China towns are kind of ghost towns.
You have written, also, as Chinese racism always hinged on the belief that — or, rather, anti-Chinese racism always hinged on the belief that Asians
harbor disease. In the 19th century, China was referred to as the sick man of Asia.
And you have talked about stuff that you are hearing even in California. How bad is this backlash against just ordinary people?
POMFRET: I don’t know if it’s — I mean, it’s clearly not as bad as it was in the 19th century, when there were all sorts of — labor unions in United
States lobbied against Chinese workers and used the Chinese diseases as a way. And there was an allegation that Chinese versions of diseases were
worse than white versions of diseases.
You’re not really getting that now. But you do see people re-embracing these type of tropes about Asians and disease and cleanliness that were
very popular 150 years ago as well.
It’s not, obviously, as bad as it was then, but it’s something really to notice and to be vigilant about going forward.
AMANPOUR: So much to discuss.
John Pomfret and Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
And, finally, a beautiful old town in Southern Italy has come up with an innovative way to combat its population problem.
The town of Teora dwindled to just 1,500 residents after an earthquake 40 years ago, but now it’s trying to entice new residents with the promise of
$5,000 to buy a property or $150 a month to put towards rent.
This comes as many Italian towns are giving houses away for just $1. But the mayor of Teora says his scheme is designed to get families to stay all
We look forward to checking back on this neighborhood experiment in the future.
Remember, you can follow me and the show on Twitter. Thanks for watching “Amanpour and Company” on PBS and join us tomorrow night.