Michael Lewis on the Trump Administration

Author of “The Big Short” Michael Lewis joins the program to discuss the Trump administration’s systematic dismantling of some of its most critical government functions, as Lewis lays out in “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy.”

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: So, it couldn’t be a better time actually because of what we see in the United States but also, we have a real disaster in Indonesia that points out what happens when government institutions are hollowed out. I know you look particularly at the United States. But just tell me what you mean by “The Fifth Risk”? How was that coined and what actually does it mean?

MICHAEL LEWIS: You know, I’ll tell you how it was coined. I started by — the story really starts with the Trump administration not bothering to engage in a transition with the Obama administration. They were meant to have, you know, hundreds of people flooding into the Federal government after the election to receive briefings that, you know, had been a year in the works, and it was essentially the best course ever created in how the Federal government ran, waiting for them, and they didn’t show. I mean, didn’t show to the point where they were like little finger sandwiches out on the table that didn’t get eaten and parking spots that didn’t filled. And so, months — you know, I — when I have learned that this had happened a couple of months after the election, I went and started wondering around the Federal government, asking like what were these briefings and could I have them and could I — just to find out kind of what they didn’t know. And what emerges is really a picture of a couple of things. One is, you can think of a government, in a lot of ways think of it, but the way I’m framing it is it’s a portfolio of risks, many of them catastrophic, many of them kind of very long-term in nature, that are being managed. And the White House — so, to get to the title, the White House had prepared a table top exercise to be engaged in between the outgoing cabinet officers of the Obama administration and the incoming cabinet officers of the Trump administration. And they planned — they — what would happen in the following instances, we’re going to scheme out how you’re going to react to pandemic, a terrorist attack of some sort, a natural disaster of some sort and a cyber-attack. And I was talking to the person who planned it. I said, “Well, if there was a fifth, what would you have done?” And she went blank on me. And I thought, that’s the issue. The issue isn’t the pandemic or the cyber- attack or the terrorist attack, the things that are vivid in your mind and that you’re already kind of thinking about. It’s — there’s a whole — there’s panoply of other risks the government manages that no one is paying any attention to and it can blow up in your face at any time. And it’s sort of like the thing you don’t imagine is the thing that’s going to come and bite you. And they’re not imaging, they’re not — the Trump administration is basically — they’re either actively dismantling the government in places or more commonly, just neglecting it.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour interviews Michael Lewis, author of “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy,” “Moneyball,” & “The Big Short;” and Peter Szijjarto, the Hungarian Foreign Minister. Michel Martin interviews Larry Ward, the Chief Marketing Officer at Gun Dynamics.