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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRANDON LEWIS, SECRETARY OF STATE OF NORTHERN IRELAND: Yes, this does break international law in a specific and limited way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The U.K. tries to break its Brexit deal. Amid emergency talks with the E.U., I talk to Tony Blair’s former chief negotiator, Jonathan
Powell, and New York Times’ London bureau chief, Mark Landler, about Boris Johnson taking a page out of the Trump playbook, disrupting alliances and
the rule of law.
Then China’s superstar pianist, Lang Lang, tells us about achieving his lifelong dream of playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM TANKERSLEY, TAX AND ECONOMICS REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I did the whole fallacy of the immigration a bit, is the idea that American workers
are competing for a finite number of jobs. I mean, that’s just not true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Myth-busting and the economy, Author Jim Tankersley tells our Michel Martin about his new book “The Riches of This Land” and what really
happened to America’s middle class.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
Britain and the United States are often seen as champions of a rules-based world order, but by its own admission now, the British government will not
abide by the hard-fought withdrawal agreement it reached with the European Union over Brexit just a year ago. That deal of course was designed to
avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland, which remains part of the E.U., and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and underpins
the whole peace process.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says a new bill that he proposed this week is an adequate replacement for part of that agreement, but the E.U. says this
in fact breaks international law and its warning that it might take legal action against the U.K.
Meantime, Democrats in the United States are used to President Trump flouting international deals and this couples with criticism over both
leaders’ response to the pandemic raises new questions about traditional global leadership and, of course, the rule of law.
My first guest tonight, a prime minister, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff and diplomat, Jonathan Powell, and New York Times’ London bureau
chief, Mark Lander, who is also a White House correspondent for the Times.
Welcome both of you see for the program.
Can I just start by asking you, Jonathan Powell? I mean, we’ve all sort of become sadly inured perhaps to a new normal that’s been created by
President Trump, flouting this, disrupting alliance, leaving, you know, norms on the table. Did you ever think that a British government would in
fact threaten to break up, tear up a vital piece of legal law that it negotiated with the E.U.?
JONATHAN POWELL, FORMER CHIEF BRITISH NEGOTIATOR ON NORTHERN IRELAND: No, I never thought I would see a British government admit and embrace the fact
it was actually breaching international law. And up to — they’re not saying there’s some excuse for it, they’re just saying, we are breaching
international law because we want to and we can. And of course, the E.U. had reacted very strongly to that.
And interestingly, two previous Tory prime ministers, Theresa May and John Major, have both condemned it, and as a previous leader of the conservative
party, Michael Howard, they said this very destructive to Britain’s standing in the world, it will make it incredibly hard for us to negotiate
new trade agreements and any other agreement, because why would anyone trust Britain. If you sign an agreement and a year later, you legislate to
AMANPOUR: Can I just play — you referred to the former prime minister, Theresa May. Let’s just play what she said in parliament about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The United Kingdom government signed the withdrawal agreement with the Northern Ireland protocol. This
parliament voted that withdrawal agreement into U.K. legislation. The government is now changing the operation of that agreement. Given that, how
can the government reassure future international partners that the U.K. can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that’s it in a nutshell. How do you then trust a world power or one that wants to continue to be a world power? What does it mean,
Jonathan Powell, that, as you said, not just Theresa May, but all the previous living U.K. prime ministers, the Tories, anyway, are condemning
Boris Johnson’s government for this? What does it mean for him and his leadership?
POWELL: Well, I suspect that he and his key aide, Dominic Cummings, would be rather pleased. They’re here to try to blow things up. Like Trump
they’re supposed to be disruptors. So, the (INAUDIBLE) by the establishment, I think the more they like it. You saw yesterday in the
prime minister’s question time, Boris Johnson was desperately disappointed, the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, didn’t raise this issue.
He was very disappointed, at the end, he started answering as if he had been asked questions on this because he wanted to get his lines at that.
They want to take on the courts, they want to take on parliament, they want to take on the establishment because they want to get that 10 percent who
are supporting them, those Brexiteers who go on top of the 30 percent traditional Tories, they want them galvanized. They want this polarization
back again because they’re falling in the polls, because their handling coronavirus has been such a disaster.
AMANPOUR: Well, Mark Landler, what does that sound like? It sounds a little bit like taking a page out of the U.S. president’s book, sort of
distracting as we see obviously the polls not in his favor as he’s facing an election in less than two months. How do you see the sort of symbiosis
MARK LANDLER, LONDON BUREAU CHIEF, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think, Christiane, sometimes the parallels between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump
are overdone. I mean, they’re not really the same kind of person but they do practice the same kind of tactics. And I think it’s very interesting
that a few years ago speaking at a private event, Boris Johnson was reported to have mused about how Donald Trump would negotiate Brexit, and
one of the things that Johnson said to this group was he expected that Trump would throw everything up in the air, create a chaotic situation, and
through that chaos, he might have achieve a better outcome.
Well, it sorts of looks on the basis over the last few days that Boris Johnson is taking that model to heart. And it’s obviously a model that
Donald Trump has used with varying degrees of success or failure, whether we’re talking about North Korea, Iran, immigration, the White House has
made a practice of flouting convention, of doing things that people would have thought were beyond the pale, in the hopes that it can somehow get
further make a breakthrough. So, I do think the parallel and tactics is clear, it has been for some time. This week was a very dramatic
illustration of it.
AMANPOUR: So, I guess the question is, you know, you say hope to make a breakthrough, but what really are they intending to do and does it match?
You know, do the results match their intentions? I want to play this from the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, because clearly Boris Johnson
thinks that whatever he does to the E.U., he’s going to get some preferential deal from the United States. Not so fast says the speaker of
the house. Let’s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY PELOSI, U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER: This news comes to us practically in the middle of the night, over the weekend, Monday, later in the day, early in
the morning here, that the U.K. had decided to undermine the Good Friday Accords. What were they thinking? Whatever it is, I hope they’re not
thinking of a U.K./U.S. bilateral trade agreement to make up for what they might lose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Gosh, I mean, she couldn’t be more definitive or more scathing. Mark Landler, that’s a serious message coming from the U.S.
LANDLER: It’s a very serious message and I’m sure it landed with a thud in Downing Street. There is a major risk here that Boris Johnson could, in the
course of making his point and taking on the European Union, antagonize the United States, and in particular antagonize a Biden administration. With
Donald Trump, he obviously has a fellow populist, who wants to do a trade deal with the U.K., who actually savors times when Boris Johnson goes after
the European Union and would probably heartily endorse what happened this week.
But in Joe Biden he faces a very different figure, someone who defends alliances, who has much more ambivalent feeling about doing a trade
agreement with the U.K., at least doing one right away and who most of all feels very strongly about the Good Friday Accord, which after all is an
important democratic legacy. It was concluded during the presidency of Bill Clinton, Jonathan Powell was around for this period and knows it well, but
Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Ritchie Neal, a very powerful Democrat in the house, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, are all going to feel
very strongly about what they view as anything that would undercut the Good Friday Accord.
So, I think Boris Johnson needs to move very carefully and consider his future with the United States, not just with the occurrence American
president, but with a potential future American president who will view this issue very differently and in a way that could be very negative for
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, that’s the point, isn’t it, Jonathan? Of course, you were there as the chief negotiator for the prime minister, Tony Blair,
in the Northern Ireland Good Friday Accords. But what do you think? I mean, look, are they trying to achieve something or are they trying to distract
people from what now parliament is saying is a sort of a potentially deliberate way to get to Brexit without a deal? In other words, you know,
reach the end of this year and have no deal going forward with the E.U.?
POWELL: I think it is a political tactic, but I don’t think we should lose sight of what Nancy Pelosi said, this is a threat to the Good Friday
Agreement. And in another parallel with Trump, Boris Johnson is saying that black is white. So, he is saying he’s doing this to save the Good Friday
Agreement, which is nonsense. The provisions he’s introduced publicly falls that we are hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of
It would reopen the whole basis on which the Good Friday Agreement was built and implemented, which I spend 10 years of my life. It would risk us
going back to violence in Northern Ireland. This is really a serious thing to do as a political tactic. What I think their tactic is, is to try and
provoke the E.U. into either surrendering on state aid, which is this block they’ve got on the negotiations, the E.U. will allow Britain to subsidize
its industries. Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummins wants to subsidize the I.T. industry here, the tech industry.
He would either force them back on that, and if they don’t, they want to be able to blame the E.U. for there being no deal. And they say they are
perfectly happy with no deal, which on top of the coronavirus, at the end of this year, would be catastrophic for the British economy. So, it is a
political tactic. They’re trying to use it in the negotiations but they have gone too far, because the E.U. has hit back and they have genuinely
put the Good Friday Peace Agreement at risk.
AMANPOUR: So, exactly. And the E.U. is threatening to take legal measures against the U.K. government. I mean, honestly, this stuff, you can’t make
this stuff up. It’s really reached a really bizarre point right now.
But you mentioned COVID and clearly for the U.S. and for the U.K., leadership over COVID has taken its toll on the leaders, because both, you
know, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have been viewed as, you know — well, I mean, look at the numbers. That’s all we have to look at, the numbers of
deaths and infections. What do you think COVID is doing for Boris Johnson’s leadership and can he hide it under Brexit distraction?
POWELL: Well, the latest polling figures have a minus 43 on leadership. So, it’s doing much good for his leadership. The beginning of the
coronavirus outbreak, it was sort of an overwhelming public support for the government. People wanted to support the government given what we are
facing, but the incompetencies demonstrated in trying to handle this has led the figures to collapse. And this is a real problem, he’s now been
overtaken by the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, who is now seen as a (INAUDIBLE) leader than he is.
So, his handling of the coronavirus has been a disaster. Yesterday, he tried to again distract attention by saying he’s going for a moon shot,
he’s going to have millions of tests. And then today, the scientists reveal they have no way of doing that. So, he’s just — he shoots these things out
of the air, again, a bit like Trump, in the hope of distracting attention from the reality on the ground, which is very sad indeed.
AMANPOUR: And you know, the reason we bring this up is not just to discuss, you know, in a gotcha kind of way, but because it actually impacts
life and death, and certainly, does all over the world, like in the United States.
Mark, what about the latest revelations, as if it couldn’t get more, I don’t know, scandalous, the fact that the president of the United States
admitted and understood how deadly and dangerous COVID was, and yet, to the people, he talks about a miracle, it’s going to go away, et cetera, and he
keeps doubling down on that saying, yes, yes, I play it had down, I don’t want to panic people. That’s having a big toll on him at the — in the last
weeks before the election.
LANDLER: Well, I think the question is how much will it really damage him? I agree, the disclosures were sort of a stunning revelation, and the idea
he willfully misled the American public for two or three months in a way that could have caused unnecessary deaths is really an astonishing
revelation, but what we find with this president is that astonishment doesn’t ever seem to affect him with his base. He continues to poll
reliably in the low 40s, unlike Boris Johnson, he hasn’t seen a gradual decline in his support. His support has remained rock solid, below 50
percent, but in the low 40s, almost regardless of the revelation.
So, I think one of the things that would be interesting is not so much whether it will hurt him with his base, because I think many people are
beginning to conclude that nothing will — that no possible revelation will hurt him with his base. The question is, can he lure anyone else to vote
for him? Anyone who is on the fence, these kinds of disclosures along with a round of disclosures last week about — the statements he made about
American service people and his generals and the troops, make it very hard for him to expand beyond that 42 percent, 43 percent, which many political
analysts say is necessary if he hopes to get reelected. So, it will be very interesting to see how this plays out over the coming days.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And of course, those disparaging comments, which really backfired badly among so many Americans who, you know, respect the military
and in fact have family members who fought and died and sacrificed.
But can I ask you both on a big war and peace story? Again, President Trump decided to, you know, just break with convention and go full boar ahead,
trying negotiation, which, of course, would have really benefited from with North Korea. Meetings, he steps inside North Korea, he’s the first
president to meet the North Korean leader, and he himself talked a lot about how they both got along so well. The fact of the matter is nothing
has happened except for, luckily, no more nuclear tests so far, but there’s no resolution to the North Korean nuclear program.
So, let me ask you how much does it matters about this other revelation from Woodward. And let me ask you, you know, just to weigh in, Jonathan,
because I know you’ve done a lot of work on North Korea. The letters to the president from Kim, according to Woodward, display “declarations of
personal fealty that might be uttered by the knights of the roundtable or perhaps suitors.” What do you make of this?
POWELL: Well, I’m really looking forward to seeing the lessons because they must be the most bizarre love correspondence in history. Knock
everyone else into the shade. So, it would be lovely to see the language that’s used.
But you said that nothing’s happened, but of course nothing happening is exactly what we want. We don’t want North Korea to carry on this nuclear
testing. We don’t want them to carry on with their missile testing and we don’t actually want them to carry on the production of those things.
So, I think it would be fair to say that Trump’s approach as a disruptor in this case was successful in stopping that testing. The problem is he’s
never been able to go beyond that, he’s never been ever to expand that into official level talks or real negotiations. And that’s partly because of the
humiliation that happened in the Hanoi. The Hanoi summit went badly wrong Kim Jong-un, he had to go back and explain why he got nothing and the thing
And I think he actually believed that President Trump was using his negotiations in North Korea for political advantage at home, domestically
in the United States and that’s why he sorts of went into a no-deal mode. Now, it’s not possible you get knocked over surprise before the election,
it will be another love letter that actually produces something. But I suspect this is going to be something that falls to the next president
after the election to deal with. And going back to his strategic patience would be a mistake because you don’t want to go back into North Korea,
provoking people, taking steps to gain attention. You want them to stay not testing any of these things.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, Mark, final word to you because getting them to stop the testing is a good thing, obviously. You know a bit about the letters. You
were a White House correspondent. What do you know about that?
LANDLER: Well, President Trump actually took great pleasure in showing these letters to people who visited him in the Oval Office. And in fact, my
colleagues and I were in a session in the Oval Office a couple years ago where he pushed those letters across the resolute desk and let us take a
look at them, a peek at them. He would not let us quote from those letters. So, credit to Bob Woodward for being ability to quote from them.
But I think what they show, above all, is Donald Trump has this unswerving confidence in his ability to make a sale one on one with somebody else. He
really put that to the ultimate test with Kim Jong-un, actually making offers that his own aides were uncomfortable with. Now, he didn’t close the
deal, but, you know, there might have been some value in taking an unorthodox approach. I mean, Jonathan is right to say that strategic
patience had not prevented testing, and there was a period of rising tensions over a long period of time.
So, thinking outside the box is not by itself a bad thing. I mean, what we did see with President Trump is he overestimated his ability to extract
something historic from Kim Jong-un. And in the process, he gave Kim Jong- un a great deal of credibility on the world stage, credibility that he perhaps didn’t deserve, and that a future American president is going to
have to deal with in how we deal with North Korea in the coming years.
AMANPOUR: Fascinating. Really, really interesting. And I’m sure both of you are hoping for a peek at President Trump’s letters back to Kim Jong-un.
That’s the next installment.
Jonathan Powell, Mark Landler, thank you for joining me tonight.
And now, a transcontinental concert with star Chinese pianist, Land Lang. The virtuoso has taken on one of Bach’s most glorious and most difficult
works, the Goldberg Variations. Lang Lang has been unable to play live because of coronavirus, but before lockdown, he did give two performances,
one in studio, and one in the historic St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany, and that is where Back once lived and worked. Lang Lang spoke to
me from Beijing about what playing the master composer meant to him.
Lang Lang, welcome back to the program. Good to have you on.
LANG LANG, PIANIST: Thank you. Such an honor to be back. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, we’ll talk about what you’re doing in lockdown. But first you’ve been playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations since you were a kid. They
call it the musical Mt. Everest. What is it about this work that really grabs you?
LANG LANG: Yes. I started playing this piece since when I was 10 years old, listening to a Glenn Gould playing, and I was so overwhelmed by his
interpretation. Because when you think about Bach, we always feel very carefully, you know, interpreted with like less pedaling, less kind of a
rubato. But actually, Bach’s music is so touching, it actually goes really deep into our heart, and I always wanted to learn that way of playing, but
it took more than 20 years for me to understand, finally.
AMANPOUR: Well, why did it take you that long? I mean, some people have said, you know, your typical piano playing is very much pounding the keys
and getting very involved and I have watched you do it, sitting next to you on the piano stool last time we talked. How different is this in terms of
style? You call it emotional?
LANG LANG: Yes. This piece is completely the opposite. You have to be completely alone in the process and it’s — you have to be so detailed in
every harmonic cadence behind a note, and you have to be really into the music with the most quietness in the heart of music making. So, it takes
some time to really digest with the music, and ringing in your head for many years, and then comes down. And this is a great way for me to get more
mature as a person.
AMANPOUR: That’s so interesting the way you put that. So, play a bit for us now.
LANG LANG: Yes.
AMANPOUR: Lang Lang, I’m very aware that I’m listening to you here, it’s almost like a private concert. There you are in Beijing, here I am, the
audience is all around watching on television. What does it mean to you to be in lockdown, to not be able to share this live with audiences as you
have in the past?
LANG LANG: It’s a real nightmare for us to not be able to perform on stage with the full capacity of audience being there and it’s just — in my
dream, I’m playing concerts around. It’s just I’m really hungry and longing for the stage.
AMANPOUR: You know, when we last talked you had had an arm injury and you had had a long layoff because of that and you were looking forward to
getting back, and obviously, you did some performances, but now you had to do a full stop again. In the life of a pianist like yourself, what does
that do to your body of work, to your fitness?
LANG LANG: It’s so important to keep our physically trained in the music making, but also playing a recital is very physically demanding, it’s not
only, you know, mentally, it’s not just emotionally, it’s a package of the entire movement.
So, therefore, during this time, I’m still trying to do some, like, streaming concerts to keep kind, you know, of my finger and my heart and
brain in the warm side, because I don’t want to get cold because then it’s hard to come back.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you then, I mean, obviously, China is where this COVID started, in Wuhan, do you feel that there is an opportunity for
concerts in the near future or do you think that’s going to be something that’s very, very much in the distance?
LANG LANG: Here, gradually I see that the concerts are opening slowly, with 40 percent of the capacity. But even in this case, it’s hard to really
do concert because the presenters are a little bit afraid of — you know, for the economic reason. It’s not easy to make concerts.
So, there are some orchestras and some players are starting to perform again but very slowly, and that need to be weighed until everything get
back to normal worldwide.
AMANPOUR: Let’s get back to Bach and the Goldberg Variations. You were in Germany, you went to his grave, in the church, you saw the original first
Bach organ also in Germany and there’s amazing pictures of it. In fact, the painting behind you is a representation of the actual photo that was taken
of you, essentially paying homage, right, to Bach. Just tell me about what that meant to you.
LANG LANG: I was playing next to Bach’s grave, to the piano next to the grave. And also, when I walked into the church, it has the most beautiful
vibration of the sound. It’s almost like an old (INAUDIBLE) sounds. And I played his organ and I would like to repeat a little bit of the sound what
I felt in that room.
AMANPOUR: Yes, please do. Please.
LANG LANG: Yes. So, it was baroque organ, exactly the same as one Bach’s time. It sounds a little bit like this.
And the music master even showed me how Bach was playing with the pipes open and the favorite position with his organ. And also, I realized Bach
was not only one of the best fingers master of playing piano, but his feet, by playing the baroque organs like same speed as his hands, almost like —
like that speed.
AMANPOUR: On the pedals?
LANG LANG: Yes, yes. With — and that was something that I got also very inspired by that power.
AMANPOUR: Yes. It is extraordinary. Now, tell me, what draws you in about him, and why do you say he has helped you mature? What did you need to
LANG LANG: Yes. First of all, he wrote a lot of pieces with multiple voices. So, he has kind of an extra brain than regular people. He’s like an
Einstein in the music world that he had so many beautiful melodies and so many different voices, but always integrated into one melody. And this is
something that every great composer is trying to learn from his way of making music, making the harmony, making, you know, the synergy between the
different characters in music making.
And also, what I love about him, he gave us, the interpreter, enough room to do different decoration notes. It was called ornamentations. And so, in
the way of making classical music almost like jazz music. Every night you can do a slightly different way of the ornamentations, and this is
something I had never experienced before of playing romantic period time.
AMANPOUR: I mean, even I’m sort of latching onto that because jazz is knowns as improvisational, sort of.
LANG LANG: Yes.
AMANPOUR: And you’re saying that you can even do that with somebody like Bach who had written all the notes down and it’s totally — you know,
there’s not much room to interpret, but you’re saying you actually can improvise.
LANG LANG: You know, his music, well — he has every part of the music, he has time to repeat. So, while doing the repeat, you can actually do a lot
of ornamentation around the main voice, the main melody.
LANG: Yes, and this just gives us extra joy to do that.
AMANPOUR: And, certainly, music lovers watching are going to be transported, because this — it is very beautiful.
And it’s a treat, actually, to have you play all the way from Beijing for us.
So, I need to ask you this. You have spoken about how music can build bridges. We have talked about it before when we sat down together in
London. And it seems now, more than ever, there needs to be a bridge built between the United States and your country, China.
AMANPOUR: How are you experiencing this war of rhetoric, this economic war, this blaming China for the COVID or China’s moves in terms of
Just tell me how you’re experiencing this political drama right now.
LANG: I feel very sad, you know, in my heart, because it’s a world that I think should be getting closer, not divided, and with the more distant,
And, unfortunately, what happening in recent time, it really makes everyone here feel very sad. And I really hope that, as a pianist, we can do more
to, you know, build more cultural bridges and to make the two countries that are coming back together.
AMANPOUR: They said — they talked about ping-pong diplomacy back in the ’70s. Who knows, maybe ivory diplomacy, tinkling on those ivories there.
But getting back to just your origins, so to speak, there’s a beautiful picture of you with your first piano teacher. She came to, I think, the
launch of your latest album on the Goldberg Variations.
Tell me about her and what she meant to you, what she gave to you.
LANG: She’s like my dearest grandmother.
And she helped me so much not only as a pianist, but she taught me so much on how to become a human. And she is a real lady. And she taught me so many
things beyond music. She taught me English.
I still remember taking a first English lesson with her. And she also told me to feet her cats, little cats. And that was — it was incredible.
And, also, more importantly, she really opened the door for me to learn Bach. And she was the one intently to give me a different Bach piece every
week to memorize.
And so that’s why, you know, now I can memorize so many notes, because of her. She really helped me to start using my brains in a very early stage
AMANPOUR: That’s really interesting.
And you have a foundation. You have some philanthropic activities. And you want to, I think, do some more interventions with schools in the United
States and elsewhere.
Can you actually do that? And what can you do for students, for instance, right now?
LANG: This year, we are going to do a virtual concert with the students of U.S. and the students of China and a few students from Europe.
So, we are going to do a virtual concert, going to happen in December, and we are going to invite our students in New York, in Chicago, and we all
kind of meet, video, and then we all play together, many different pieces, and different pieces from a different part of the world, and also talking
about how important is education and how important is musical education to our society.
And so this is something we’re going to do this year.
AMANPOUR: So, let’s just end by asking you, again, how you have handled COVID, what has maybe been some of your most comforting music or your
favorite melodies to play beyond Bach and the Goldberg Variations?
And is there anything you yourself have turned to, to sustain yourself these last six months?
LANG: Yes, I must say, you know, from the six months, I’m trying to learn more new pieces, and more new pieces by Debussy, by Beethoven or also
And maybe I will play a little piece by Schubert. And this is my favorite melodies of one of the Impromptus. And I think this is a beautiful,
beautiful melody, which calm our feelings and also healing our heart, yes.
AMANPOUR: That is beautiful.
Lang Lang, thank you, and thank you for healing our hearts. Thank you for being with us.
LANG: Thank you. Thank you.
It’s a great honor to see you and to be on your wonderful show. Thank you so much for having me.
AMANPOUR: Good luck to you.
And you will hear more of Lang Lang playing later on in the program.
Now, as tens of millions of Americans remain jobless, President Trump continues to claim that the economy has been the strongest ever on his
Well, our next guest disagrees.
Jim Tankersley is an economics reporter who’s now written a book called “The Riches of This Land,” which tells the story of what happened to
America’s middle class.
Here he is talking to our Michel Martin about that and about why he thinks restricting immigration to boost wages is a myth.
MICHEL MARTIN: Thanks, Christiane.
Jim Tankersley, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
JIM TANKERSLEY, AUTHOR, “THE RICHES OF THIS LAND”: Thank you so much for having me.
MARTIN: I want to talk about the book, obviously, because it’s a decade in the making. It ties together some of these really powerful trends in the
economy that I think everybody has seen, but didn’t necessarily understand.
And one of the fascinating arguments that you make in the book is that the president could have achieved the kind of remarkable economic growth,
broad-based economic growth that he brags about. You say he actually didn’t, but he could have.
Explain that, please.
TANKERSLEY: Well, I think we should start there with what the president promised and what he actually delivered.
The president promised that he was going to have the economy growing at 4, 5, even 6 percent a year. He promised he was going to pay off the entire
national debt in eight years. He promised he was going to bring millions of jobs back from China and Mexico.
None of those things have happened. What the president did instead was preside over for three years the tail end of an economic expansion that he
kept going with fiscal and monetary stimulus, and which produced very similar results to the second terms of George W. Bush or Barack Obama in
terms of economic growth and employment growth.
It just so happens that President Trump started in a much better position than either of those presidents had started.
So, he did fine for three years, but he did not deliver the unprecedented performance that he said he would.
The argument in the book, though, is that the president wasn’t really focused on what we know from American history is the secret formula to
creating broad-based prosperity that lifts millions of people in the middle class.
And that formula, which was played out in the aftermath of World War II and all the way through the 1970s, is that, if you seek to empower workers who
have been shut out of opportunity in the American labor force, particularly women of all races and men of color and immigrants, if you seek to empower
them, and break down the barriers of discrimination and structural barriers that hold them back in the economy, that unleashes them to work more, to
produce more, to be more productive.
And that creates the sort of sustainable growth with low unemployment that lifts millions of people in the middle class. The president wasn’t focused
on that formula. A lot of his policies had gone in the other direction that.
And so I think he’s missed an opportunity to repeat that success.
MARTIN: Your book makes some extremely powerful arguments. And you state them in no uncertain terms.
I’ll just read from the very beginning. You say: “My reporting uncovered lies that have poisoned our national economic debate for decades, long
before this latest recession, but which left us weak and vulnerable when the recession hit.”
You say, in fact, that the real story of the middle class is not the story of elite white men doing elite white man things, but it’s the reality of
the sort of remarkable expansion of the American middle class lies with groups, certain groups, women, people of color, black people in particular,
So, talk about it. So, first, I want to ask to say, what is the lie that you say has been peddled all these years? And then, of course, I’m going to
ask you to turn around and tell me, what’s the truth?
TANKERSLEY: Well, the great lie of the American economy — and, really, you can trace it all the way back to the founding of the republic and
before — is the idea that, if you are a certain type of working-class American, your prosperity is most threatened by a different type of
working-class American who doesn’t look like you.
And, specifically, it’s a lie sold to white men, white working-class men, being told that women and men of color and immigrants are a threat. They’re
stealing your job. They’re stealing your prosperity. They are making things worse for you.
And we have seen it over decades, over centuries. And it is always elite white men, the people who run the country, which, in the founding of the
country, that was a group largely just sort of white male landholders.
Now that group sort of shorthands to elite white college graduate men. But they have used this idea of pitting groups of workers against each other to
keep workers down and essentially keep the elites at the top of the economy.
But the truth is the opposite. The truth is that, when distressed workers, workers who have been held back for a really long time, are allowed to get
ahead, everyone benefits, including other working-class Americans.
And so the way to say that in very blunt terms about today’s economy is, it would be better for struggling white male workers in Ohio or Michigan or
Wisconsin, it would be better for them if we had more opportunity for immigrants, more opportunity for women, more opportunity for black
Americans, because they would create themselves growth and job opportunities that would lift up those men who have been — rightly feel
like they have been left behind in this economy.
MARTIN: You start with a fascinating story that I’m embarrassed to admit I never heard before about the tobacco workers in Winston-Salem, North
Carolina, in 1943. These were women who worked at the R.J. Reynolds company.
And just as briefly as you can, tell me what happened.
TANKERSLEY: It’s an amazing story. And I found it in oral histories that have been compiled by a researcher named Robert Korstad and his associates
in North Carolina.
And it’s amazing. So, it’s, we’re in the middle of the war. And black women essentially make the R.J. Reynolds tobacco factory run. And they have a
very hard job of feeding tobacco — pull things out of boxes and feed it into a big machine.
And they have very low pay and no breaks, other than to go to the bathroom and a little bit for lunch during the day. They don’t even get paid time
off to have — like on the day they are due to give birth.
And they are — there are many cases that the workers describe of women getting very sick and going to their supervisors and asking to go to the
nurse or go home or whatever and being told, no, get back to work. And if you don’t get back to work, we will fire you.
They point to the door and basically say, you will be out the door.
So, on this sort of extraordinary day, these women are planning a labor action, and because of a woman’s experience of being told to go back to
work, this single mom who is trying to provide for her family.
And so the instigator of this all, Theodosia Simpson, gets her friends together. And they stop. They just — the machines are supposed to come
back on after lunch, but they refuse to turn them on.
And then, very quickly, all of the machines are shut down. And, pretty soon, the entire plant is offline. And now the management has to deal with
these workers, who end up joining a union and bargaining for better wages and better benefits, which lift up not just those black women, but all of
the workers at the plant, including white men.
MARTIN: Here’s the point that you make. The point that you make is, the black woman at this plant were the lowest paid, has some of the dirtiest
jobs, the least desirable jobs.
But when they put their lives on the line to organize, everybody’s benefits improved, the white men, the white women. Everybody who worked there
achieved the benefit from this behavior, from this action on their part.
OK, give us an example of why you say that the president — not just this administration, but let’s just focus on this administration, because they
have had the wheel for three years — could have unleashed this boom that has not occurred. Are there certain things that he could have done that
would have helped set these things to rights?
TANKERSLEY: The president talked, for example, at times about trying to do something about the child care crisis in our country, something that has
been absolutely exacerbated by this pandemic.
I think it is one of the most important areas of policy for unleashing women’s participation in the labor force. If we had more abundant, less
expensive child care in this country, whether through government subsidies or deregulation or a combination of both, we would be able to solve in
large part the issues that hold working mothers back in the work force.
And we know from economic research that those losses are large. We have really talented women who essentially have to leave the work force to deal
with the broken child care system in this country, not because they want to, but because they are forced to by economic circumstance.
If he had made that an early on focus on policy, first off, there probably would have been a lot of bipartisan support for it. It’s an issue that
pulls very well. But, second off, it would have freed up those workers to do much better.
And I think the other area where — we have talked a little bit about this, but immigration policy is certainly an area where the president believes
something that the economic research strongly disagrees with, which is that restricting immigration, the president believes, will boost everyone’s
The opposite it sure looks like is true in all the research that we have. And if he had made a concerted effort to let in a lot more particularly
highly skilled entrepreneurial immigrants in the last three years, we’d have more companies being formed, all sorts of really positive developments
for innovation and entrepreneurship that I think would have dramatically helped the economy.
MARTIN: The reality of it is that immigration in the last decade has included people from both groups. It’s included a lot of people who are not
highly skilled, who are not highly educated, and as well as people who are highly skilled who come in through of a different pathway, OK? OK.
But so the argument is that, if you bring in a lot of labor competition, why wouldn’t that suppress wages for the people who are already here,
particularly people who are similarly situated, your less well-educated American citizens or your less well-educated immigrants of longer tenure?
You’re saying that that’s not true?
TANKERSLEY: Well, I mean, look, I’m going to be certain about what the research says.
There are some wage effects for a short term on particular groups, native- born Americans who didn’t finish high school, for example, small group, but a group that appears to be in competition with recent lower-skilled
immigrants for jobs and sort of — and previous waves of immigrants also seem to have a little bit of a wage impact. But those are not large.
But this is — I think the whole fallacy of the immigration debate is the idea that American workers are competing for a finite number of jobs. And
that’s just not true. There’s not some set number of jobs in the United States.
When immigrants come in, we see, they don’t just take jobs. They also spend money. They also start businesses. They are drivers of economic growth. And
sort of think of it intuitively. If we just got rid of half the people in America right now and sent them to Canada, we don’t think the economy would
go much better for all the workers who are left.
So, it is — the idea that restricting the supply of immigrants is necessarily going to boost wages for the people who are here rests on the
idea that there’s this finite pool of jobs, which just isn’t true. And it ignores those positive spillover effects, again, both in terms of demand
and actually spending money, but also in terms of entrepreneurship, that immigrants of all skill levels bring to the United States.
MARTIN: The other argument that you make in the book — and it’s actually a very depressing one — you argue that failure to take racial
discrimination seriously, even to this day, has had a devastating impact on the economic mobility of African-Americans.
In fact, you cite one study conducted by a person who actually worked in the Trump administration that said that the economic mobility for black
people is actually no better than it was in 1876, which is a really disturbing thing to contemplate.
But how is that possible? Because, again, I know that maybe it sounds like a ridiculous question, but people say — it’s the classic, what about
MARTIN: What about Beyonce?
So, tell me why that is. Why — how could that be true?
TANKERSLEY: Well, when we talk about economic mobility, we’re not talking about, what’s the nice way to put this, outstanding outliers.
We are talking about averages. And so the question that this researcher Marianne Wanamaker at the University of Tennessee and a co-author were
examining was, what is the likelihood that a black man — and they always study men because it’s easier in genealogical things over time to do that –
– that a black man can rise above the economic station, basically, of his father, born into a particular circumstance, and how does that compare with
the mobility that white men experience over time?
And what they find is that the economic mobility prospects for a typical black man have not changed since Reconstruction, which is just, like you
said, wildly depressing. And there’s a lot wrapped up in that.
And one thing that Marianne told me in an interview is that, even if they just had one — if we had one generation in America where black men
experienced the same sort of odds of economic mobility that white men experience, that would have, like, completely narrowed the gap. That would
have dramatically changed the picture.
But it’s just not been the case. With every generation, there have been setbacks and this lack of progress. And so it remains sort of depressingly
true today that it is very difficult for a young black man born into poverty, for example, to get ahead of where he was born, compared to how
easy it is for a white man born into the same situation.
MARTIN: And why is that? Is that — what’s the primary driver of that?
TANKERSLEY: The research doesn’t exactly tease out all those factors.
But I think we can say very safely that three things that really hold young black men and women back in America, and particularly men for these three
things, in America today remain education, incarceration and discrimination.
So, they’re typically not educated in schools that are of the same quality that white students experience. They face a much higher chance of being
incarcerated for a long time. And that is a multidecade problem now in the United States, going back to the war on drugs in the 1980s.
And then, when they do — even when they do get out, I mean, even for black men who go all the way through college and get a college degree, for —
compared to a comparably educated white man, they still earn way less. And the same is true of black women compared to white women.
It is just — so, there exists discrimination factors in the job market that transcend even those first two parts, all of which make it harder. And
so the median black family’s wealth is like one-tenth of the median white family’s wealth right now.
MARTIN: Well, what about — where have the Democrats been in all of this? It’s not like they haven’t had any role in governance over the last decade,
while these trends were taking hold that you have described.
I mean, what’s been their role in this?
TANKERSLEY: Well, I mean, the Democrats — to be clear, my default position in the book is that no political party has effectively followed
the strategy over the last several decades.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton did try to run on a version of something related to this idea, her Stronger Together idea, trying to make the case that
America was better off with people working together. But it wasn’t a very focused pitch, having covered it at the time.
And she didn’t, I would say, articulate it in the way that she would have needed to, to really get through to people.
But in terms of governance, I mean, for example, there have been policy errors under Democratic administrations that have accelerated some of these
trends. The way in which the Clinton administration at the very end of Bill Clinton’s term entered into permanent normal trade relations with China was
directly responsible for a couple of millions — a couple of million American jobs lost.
And there’s an argument that a much more targeted, better approach to that, that would have compensated and helped the workers displaced by that move
would have been dramatically better. But he didn’t do that.
Barack Obama’s housing policy, and particularly for how to deal with borrowers who got stuck underwater on their mortgages coming out of 2008,
they were very, very reluctant to intervene and help people out. And I think that really set back both the overall economic recovery and set back
black families and Hispanic families and others who were who were left underwater.
And they defend those policies to this day, but I was critical of them at the time, and I think that the research has shown that they were
particularly bad for the types of trends we’re talking about.
So, it’s not like Democrats are blameless here. But, certainly, President Obama tried to make addressing racial inequities part of at least his
rhetorical appeal to the country. But what we see, after now 20 years of both Republican and Democratic presidents in the 21st century, is that
there are still huge problems with racial and gender discrimination in the country.
And I would argue that maybe it’s not a president’s job to solve all those, but that you do need presidential leadership to help.
MARTIN: Jim Tankersley, thank you so much for talking with us.
TANKERSLEY: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And, finally, with a little bit of relief for these very, very serious topics, as promised, we leave you with some musical notes, musical
healing from the classical pianist Lang Lang, who’s playing a selection of Bach’s Goldberg Variations from his home in Beijing.
Thanks for watching “Amanpour and Company” on PBS and join us again tomorrow night.