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Amy McGrath: Former fighter pilot running for office; "The People vs. Democracy". Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired May 31, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, with women running for office in record numbers across the United States, I speak to one of them,
Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, the former fighter pilot who took Kentucky's Democratic primary by storm.
Plus, why democracy itself is at risk. Yascha Mounk joins me to talk about his new book, "The People Vs. Democracy".
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The United States is seeing a surge in diversity, at least when it comes to candidates running for office in 2018. As the primaries are proving, it's
a big year for fielding women and military and national security veterans.
Not only do they believe that they bring truly unique experience to the table, since many of these candidates are also Democrats, they hope to
create a so-called blue wave in this November's midterm elections.
My guest tonight, Amy McGrath, is three of those things. She's a Democrat, she's a woman and she's a military veteran. She was the first ever female
to fly an F-18 in combat in Afghanistan.
But she was a total novice to politics until she pulled off a stunning victory this month, winning the Democratic primary in Kentucky's 6th
No stranger to tough missions, she'll now run against a Republican for the House seat in one of the reddest states in America. This was the campaign
ad that started it all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. COL. AMY MCGRATH, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE IN KENTUCKY: When I was 12 years old, I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up.
I wanted to fight fighter jets and land on aircraft carriers because that's the toughest flying you could do.
When I was 13, my congressman told me I couldn't fly in combat. He said Congress thought women ought to be protected and not allowed to serve in
combat. I never got a letter back from my senator, Mitch McConnell.
Some are telling me a Democrat can't win that battle in Kentucky, that we can't take back our country for my kids and yours. We'll see about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And McGrath joined me from Louisville, Kentucky.
Lt. Col. McGrath, welcome to the program.
MCGRATH: It's great to be here.
AMANPOUR: So, the last little bit of that ad, you put down a big challenge. I guess, just before we start, I just wanted you to comment on
the incredible number of former military vets, like yourself, military vets, former members of the US national security and intelligence
structure, former CIA and others getting into this fight, this political fight, what do you think you can bring to the table at our time right now?
MCGRATH: Well, I think one of the reasons is we have a lot of experience in national security and the wars that we have been fighting, the very
complex nature of the wars we've been fighting and we're very concerned about our country. We're concerned about its leadership.
And we are the types of people who have stood up in the past. We've been the ones who volunteered to be in the Armed Forces, for example. And we're
not just going to sit by and watch our country go in the wrong direction.
We feel that we have a voice. We feel that it's time. And I think this is all a part of that. I think that's why you're seeing so many veterans step
AMANPOUR: Well, it is extraordinary because clearly that resonates with people. I mean, granted, you are running a Democratic primary. So, you
were competing against a Democratic opponent, who nonetheless was incredibly popular, the mayor, who you beat, he was very popular, and you
started with, I believe, a 47-point deficit and you managed to more than catchup. What do you put that down to?
MCGRATH: Well, it's about the climate. I mean, people are looking for something different. It's about who do you want to elect who's going to be
a change agent. And really, what we need right now. Do we need more standard politicians?
While my opponents who I ran against was very popular, this shows you that people are looking for folks who can cut through the partisan divide that
we have, folks who don't necessarily have a background in one political party or another, but people who have served the country and who are going
to put the country above politics.
That is really resonating. That I believe is what people want. And that's why I'm running.
[14:05:02] AMANPOUR: You talk about, especially in your ad, how from the very youngest of ages, right, 12 years old, 13 years old, you were writing
to politicians, you were writing to the leadership in the political arena demanding the right, I think, to go to combat and to fly in combat. What
did that do for you?
MCGRATH: My experience in the military and my dream as a 12-year-old, as a 13-year-old in writing to members of Congress asking them to open up the
positions for women in combat and then subsequently going out and following that dream and making it happen, what has that taught me?
It's taught me that step up, it's taught me that I can do it. I knew that I could fly fighter jets when I was 12 years old. I just needed the
opportunity. And once given that opportunity, I just worked very hard. Anybody that knows me knows that that was the case.
And as we look at this election, it's the same thing. You step up. You work hard. And I know I can do it. And that's part of this.
AMANPOUR: Just in your own words, tell us and our viewers and those who might see you somewhere in national office sometime soon, how tough is it
to fly an F-18 in combat? How tough is it to get on and off those aircraft carriers?
MCGRATH: Well, I get asked a lot, what's tougher, flying an F-18 or running for office, for Congress, but I'll be honest with you. I have
small children. I have three toddlers. And that's way harder than either one of those things.
But flying an F-18 on a carrier or really anywhere, it's a matter of training. We get a lot of training going into it. It's years. You have
to be intense. You have to be on. You have to be smart. And you have to perform.
It's a lot like - I always say flying an F-18 is kind of like playing a soccer game, but doing a math problem at the same time. You have to - your
mind has to be in it and your body has to be in it. it is the ultimate job and I absolutely loved it and did it for decades.
AMANPOUR: Well, now your main issue is healthcare and other social issues that are really, really important. And you just talked about being a mom
of toddlers. And one of your campaign videos was taking your kids to a doctor's appointment.
So, as we play that, it was kind of funny. I think he dropped his hands, your kid, and ran down the hallway.
What are the issues particularly in your state around healthcare that you want to rectify?
MCGRATH: And this is the most important issue for Kentuckians. It's the most important issue for the people of the 6th District and the 19 counties
that make up the 6th district.
Kentucky was a beneficiary of the Affordable Care Act. It did a lot of good for Kentuckians. We brought the uninsured rate down that was above 20
percent down to about 5 percent. And people are very concerned.
They're concerned - folks who have pre-existing conditions. They're seeing premiums rise. Folks who just can't afford health insurance. And so,
that's why it's the number one issue. That's the issue that started this campaign on. It's the one issue that I really want to work on and make
And I think that's the big thing. We need to elect people that actually want to fix it and make healthcare better for folks in America and make it
better for Kentuckians. And that's what I want to do.
AMANPOUR: So, it's a big challenge, though, in Kentucky, right? It's a very anti-Obama state. It's a very pro-Trump state. You have your work
cut out for you. And you haven't even gone against your Republican challenger.
So, just on that issue, of course, your opponent is talking about you not being a local candidate. You've got all this national attention because of
your unique personal back story. And you've got support from national leaders in your party.
What do you say to those who say you know more about the rest of America than you do about your local district and about your state?
MCGRATH: Well, I mean, I'm not shying away from the fact that I served my country for 24 years. I'm honest with people about that.
But I am a Kentuckian and I've come home. In the primary, I won 18 of the 19 counties in this district. And I won - of those 18, they are
essentially all the rural counties. And so, I feel very confident that I've been able to reach out and connect with people in rural Kentucky.
[14:10:10] That is really going to be the key. I mean, that's part of the reason why folks in Kentucky went so much for President Trump, is that
whatever you think about him, I acknowledge the fact that he spoke to people who were feeling left behind.
And I want to do the same thing. And in my campaign, I focus heavily on those areas that where people feel like, hey, our government and our
political parties on both sides are not listening to them. So, it's about going out there and talking to people.
AMANPOUR: Well, so I wonder whether you think his voters, the people who came out for him and made him president in many of the areas that you're
talking about, what are they going to feel like when, for instance, Europe today is maybe threatening tariffs on Bourbon? I mean, a huge Kentucky
export is Bourbon, right?
And today, the president has announced tariffs on allied nations that export metals including to your state. How is that going to affect all
Kentuckians, but particularly those who voted for President Trump?
MCGRATH: That's right. And I think people are starting to see that the president really isn't following through with his promises.
Candidate Trump promised to work on healthcare. He promised infrastructure. He promised help with the economy. And some of these
things that he's been doing, it really doesn't help people. These tariffs, nobody wins a trade war.
These tariffs will eventually start to hurt our farmers in Kentucky. They're going to hurt the Bourbon industry. Whenever you slap on - you
know this. Whenever you slap on a tariff against any country, there's a blowback. There's going to be some consequences and we're going to feel it
here in Kentucky and I think people start to get that.
AMANPOUR: I want to go back to your own personal story. You took a lot of inspiration from your father, who very tragically died suddenly during your
campaign, but also from your mother and her professional choices and the hardships she had to overcome. Tell me a little bit about what you got
from your parents?
MCGRATH: Well, tremendous strength. My mother was one of the first women to graduate from University of Kentucky Medical School. And my father was
always a rock of strength for me.
But what I learned in this process and it really goes back to being 12 or 13 years old and wanting to do something that wasn't open to me that people
said girls couldn't do, I remember going to my mother and saying, hey, mom, I think I want to do this.
And her response is you can do it, you can do it, just keep working on it. I looked at her and I said, well, the challenges, I've got they're nothing
compared to what mom did, so I can do this.
AMANPOUR: And then, finally, your husband is a Republican. Or at least a Republican voter. And he apparently famously didn't vote for you in the
primaries. What's that all about? How does that go down at home?
MCGRATH: Well, we decided that we were going to stay true to who we were. When I decided to run for office, we weren't going to change who we are.
And Eric is a Republican. He's been a Republican since he was 18. And we actually agree over 90 percent of the issues. And really, that's America.
That's America. Most of the time, we agree.
And so, I think that we decided this was the right thing to do for him to be him and for me to be me. And here we are.
AMANPOUR: Do you think he'll vote for you in the general election?
MCGRATH: That would be better.
AMANPOUR: Lt. Col. McGrath, thank you so much for joining me.
MCGRATH: Thank you. It's wonderful to be here. I appreciate it.
AMANPOUR: Now, even if she does get her husband's vote, McGrath, of course, will still face an uphill battle in a district that is easily - was
easily won by Donald Trump in 2016.
But from Pennsylvania to Alabama, we've seen in recent months that having the president on your side isn't enough to carry all Republicans over the
My next guest says what's at stake, though, is more than party politics. It is democracy itself. In the United States and around the world.
Yascha Mounk's new book is called "The People Vs Democracy: Why Our Freedom is in Danger and How to Save It".
He tells me that the dangers are real, but there are all also real solutions.
Yascha Mounk, welcome to the program.
YASCHA MOUNK, AUTHOR, "THE PEOPLE VS DEMOCRACY: WHY OUR FREEDOM IS IN DANGER AND HOW TO SAVE IT". : Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: "The People vs. Democracy" and the strap line is how our freedoms are in danger. So, you started this before the Trump, Brexit
wave. What is it that triggered your interest before these big winners?
[14:15:04] MOUNK: Well, I started to look around the world and I saw that populist parties were doing better and better in many elections in Austria
and the Netherlands and the French elections in 2002.
And then, I started to see that people seem to be pretty unhappy with our political systems, that most governments had really bad approval ratings.
AMANPOUR: And you actually - I don't know whether you coined the term, but you basically have talked about democratic deconsolidation, but importantly
that democracy is no longer the only game in town.
MOUNK: That's right.
AMANPOUR: In democracies.
MOUNK: So, the idea for a long time was that once you have a pretty stable political system, you are relatively affluent, you've changed governments,
free and fair elections a few times, democracy has become the only game in town.
And that was meant to - supposed to mean that most people give great importance to living in a democracy, that they reject autocratic
alternatives to democracy completely.
And so, I did some research with a colleague, Roberto Foa, to try to look at that. And what we found is that that's no longer true.
AMANPOUR: And what did you find in the United States? I mean, I ask you because of the rise of Donald Trump. What did you find older voters,
younger voters, what did people tell you about the importance of democracy for them?
MOUNK: Before 2016, before the election of Donald Trump, we found, for example, that older Americans born in the 1930s and 1940s, over two-thirds
of them gave huge importance to living in a democracy, 10 out of 10.
Among younger Americans, born since 1980, less than one-third did.
AMANPOUR: I mean, that's a dramatic shift.
MOUNK: It is. And the more dramatic shift even was in terms of acceptance of certain autocratic alternatives to democracy.
AMANPOUR: In the United States?
MOUNK: So, among all age group, from 1995 to 2011, the number of Americans who think that army rule is a good system of government increased from 1 in
16 to 1 in 6.
AMANPOUR: Excuse me? Army rule in the United States? One in six people think it's a good idea?
MOUNK: And I'm not sure that that means that 1 in 6 Americans actually would cheer if the colonels came out tomorrow, but it does show how many
Americans say, you know what, this system just isn't working, we need something new.
And I find this all of the time when I talk to people. It sounds little abstract, but I was just talking to a young student a couple of days ago,
and she was telling me, you know what, I don't trust these politicians, nobody cares about us anyway, perhaps we just need to put it all aside and
start anew with a new system.
AMANPOUR: OK. That's all well and good. Let's say people are looking for something new to get them out of this mess that they feel that they are in.
But to make that leap to autocracy, strongman, this kind of populist wave, this lack of democracy, that takes something. I mean, that's a really
MOUNK: Yes. I think what it takes is many decades of political disappointments. So, what we have to ask is why was political - why was
liberal democracies so stable in the past, in the post-war era, for example, and why is it starting to be less and less stable now.
And I think one big reason is that democracies used to be able to offer their citizens these really rapid improvements in their living standards.
In the United States, from 1945 to 1960, the living standard of the average American doubled. From 1960 to 1995, it doubled again. Well, you know
what? Since 1995, it's actually been flat.
AMANPOUR: Now, this is not just the US. You've looked at Eastern Europe. You've looked - I mean, actually, there is an actual prime minister in
Hungary who's actually coined the term illiberal democracy.
CARLSON: I mean, as if that's something to be proud of.
MOUNK: Yes. Well, if you remember Winston Churchill's famous speech given after the war, the Iron Curtain speech from Trieste in the Adriatic all the
way up to Stettin in the Baltic, an Iron Curtain is descending all across Europe.
Well, you can now travel from the Baltic Sea in the north of the continent all the way down to the Mediterranean Sea in the south and never leave a
country ruled by a populist.
And as we are seeing in Hungary, some of these populists aren't just putting forward policy positions which perhaps more moderate parties
disapprove of, they are actually attacking democratic institutions.
Hungary today is no longer a true democracy. And going back to the thing I was saying earlier, the assumption of political scientists that relatively
affluent countries, kind of that have had a couple of changes of government for free and fair elections are safe, are consolidated, well, Hungary is
the best case that disapproves that theory.
AMANPOUR: What I found interesting, you've touched on one of the issues which was economic stagnation, the lack of growth. In the past, when
democracy was flourishing, economic growth was rapid and strong enough to empower not just the rich, but the middle class and indeed the working
And now, it's not. So, you identify that stagnation. You identify fear of the foreigner, the migrants, playing into that fear of stagnation. And
then, you add to this poison mix, social media and what people are being told and how they're being demagogued.
MOUNK: Yes, yes. So, these three big factors going on. The first is the economic one we've talked about. The second is that most democracies, when
they were founded, had this monoethnic, monocultural conception of themselves.
Go back to 1960, you ask somebody in Sweden and Italy, even in France who truly makes a compatriot of yours? Who truly makes a Italian, a German?
They would say, well, somebody who's descended from the same ethnic stock.
That's frankly started to change over the last 50 years. But there's a lot of people in those countries who resist that change, who say, no, I don't
like this kind of transformation and I'm afraid that I'm not going have the same status in the future as I used to have in the past.
[14:20:14] So, if you take that economic frustration and you take those fears about demographic transition and you add to that social media with
its ability to empower outside voices, to make it easier to circumnavigate media gatekeepers and other gatekeepers, that becomes a very dangerous
AMANPOUR: America has always been a non-homogeneous society. I mean, I know the pilgrims, et cetera, but they were built on immigration. Why is
it so acute, this anti-foreigner rhetoric from the top there?
MOUNK: So, United States and Canada are both similar and different. They're different in the obvious sense, but you pointed out that they've
always be multi-ethnic societies.
But they're similar in the sense that most multi-ethnic societies have always had a very strict racial and religious hierarchy, that if you were a
white Protestant, you enjoyed huge advantages over everybody else. And so, it shouldn't surprise us.
AMANPOUR: So, there was a pecking order. Even though it was a multi- ethnic, white Christians were at the top of this pecking order?
MOUNK: Absolutely. And up to the 1960s, not just white Christians, even just white Protestants, right? And so, they have real advantages to give
up and that doesn't mean that we should condone the anger.
But look at it as a social scientist, it means for me that I'm not surprised by it. They are giving something up. In 1960, you could say
perhaps I'm not the richest guy in the country, perhaps I'm not the smartest guy, perhaps I don't have the most social respect, but you know
what, at least I'm one of the people who kind of own this country. I'm not one of these minorities, I'm not one of those immigrants. And that gave
people a kind of status advantage over others, which we're now being asked rightly to give up. It shouldn't surprise us that there's a rebellion
AMANPOUR: You also point out that some of these people, whether it's Erdogan or Putin or Duterte or Hugo Chavez in his day, they are successful
at staying in power using election, but also being the sort of beloved benign dictator.
MOUNK: Yes. I mean, so I think it's really dangerous that our imagination for how democracies go to die still hearkens back to the 1930s and some
people at the moment are really pushing that line and are trying to shake people into attention. But I think we're doing the opposite.
AMANPOUR: So, it's not all jackbooted, black-shirted fascists?
MOUNK: Yes. I think that democracy is only in danger when people are walking around and performing the Hitler salute with the black shiny boots,
when I look outside today, in United States and Britain and Germany and say, well, we don't seem to be there.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, the next bit, obviously, is what can we do about it. You quoted the amazing Israeli novelist Amos Oz, talking about his
AMANPOUR: And each one of us can hold a teaspoon, fill it with water and individually douse the flames. Take that metaphor forward.
MOUNK: Yes. So, it's Amos Oz metaphor, but it's the right one, I think, which is that there's a huge fire burning in the world and you can feel a
little disempowering. What can I alone do to stop this fire?
But there's a ton us. There is a ton of people watching this show. And if we each take our little teaspoon of a drop of water and put it on the fire
together, I can't promise we are going to be able to make it go out, but there's a good chance that we will.
Now, what does that mean? Well, a little bit it means everybody doing something that they can with their skills in their local community. Those
are few important things.
The first is, normally, when populists are up for reelection for the first time, the opposition retains a decent shot at displacing them from power.
Once they are up for reelection for the second or third time, the electoral system is so rigged that it gets harder.
So, just make sure that you actually go and fight for whichever candidate stands up to a populist in the next election.
AMANPOUR: So, Macron did a good job, right? Standing up to the populists.
MOUNK: Absolutely. And that election could have gone much worse, if somebody like Emmanuel Macron had not been around.
The second thing for this, the politicians have to finally recognize the extent of their responsibility now.
I think in America, the Democratic Party is frankly a little shaken out of their complacency and lots of European countries, I think, they think they
can still continue going the way they always have.
But this is the moment to actually show people that it can deliver for them, that it can improve their standard of living, that it can defend free
trade and globalization and all of those things, but actually make sure that people's lives are becoming better, and that's the crucial thing.
And another thing we have to do is to fight for an equal multi-ethnic society, to fight for what our society looks like in such a way that we all
feel valued as full citizens, but we also emphasize what unites us across the racial and ethnic and religious lines rather than what divides us.
You mentioned all of those things, I think it would make a lot of difference.
AMANPOUR: And one of the things that I was struck by, many of us may think - and you just explained why it's important not to let these populist have
too much time in power, win too many elections, and you talked about the difference between a populist moment and a populist era, a populist age.
[14:25:01] MOUNK: Well, I think there's still hope that some people have that 2016 was this bizarre year where everything went wrong, perhaps there
was something in the water, but we're going to move out of that very quickly. This is not the new normal.
Well, I'm afraid that it is the new normal. Populism has been rising for a long time in many different countries fueled by long-term structural
factors and it's going to stay with us for 20, 30 years. And beating it, containing it is a generational struggle.
Now. that's scary. When I was growing up, I thought that I wouldn't have to deal with those kind of existential questions in our politics. But it
is also empowering. It means that what we do now politically really, really matters and that's in a certain way a positive message.
AMANPOUR: Well, I have to say I am struck by the way people have risen up in the United States - women, blacks, students after the mass shootings in
schools, the press.
But, I guess, I just have to ask you the final devil's advocate question. What's wrong with the populist era?
MOUNK: Well, you can see what's wrong when you actually look at what life looks like in some of those countries. Look at Venezuela today and the
utter economic destruction that left-wing economic populism has wrought there. And look at countries like Russia and Turkey where journalists are
called terrorists and locked up.
AMANPOUR: And economies are shaky in both those countries.
MOUNK: The economies are very shaky as well. Absolutely. And this is something, by the way, I'm struck by how little concern the American
business community has about this.
Look at the way in which American corporations have already had to pay off Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal lawyer. Look at the way in which
Trump administration has already because Trump happens to dislike CNN and happens to dislike "The Washington Post" tried to punish Amazon, tried to
punish Time Warner. If you think that's good in the long run for economic growth or for your bottom line, I think you're being quite naive.
AMANPOUR: Yascha Mounk, thank you so much indeed.
MOUNK: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: A challenge indeed.
And that is it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.