Return to Transcripts main page
Lessons in Leadership; Donald Trump: A Big Fan of Abraham Lincoln; Timothy Snyder on Democracy: Russia and Trump. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired August 31, 2018 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Coming up. We're looking back at some of our favorite interviews of this year.
In this edition, the renown presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin on the place President Trump occupies. And my conversation with Yale
professor and historian, Timothy Snyder, about the unprecedented assault on democracy. In his new book "The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe,
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
President Trump often compares himself favorably to Abraham Lincoln. Tweeting and talking about the great man over and over as a measure of his
own success. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president
that's ever held this office. That I can tell you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That was then a year and a half into this office. What would honest Abe think of President Donald Trump. Doris Kearns Goodwin is
America's foremost presidential historian. Chronicler of everyone from Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt to Lindon Johnson. And I asked her about this
special kind of leadership when she joined me from Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I'm delighted to be here.
AMANPOUR: So, what do you think of those quotes, those tweets? What do you think of President Trump's comparison to Abraham Lincoln?
GOODWIN: Well, so many things stand out. It's just an astonishing comparison. I mean, Lincoln was known for having a deep-rooted confidence,
but also an extraordinary sense of humility about himself. When Trump was talking about his own humility, he said that he loved Pope Francis so much
because Pope Francis was very, very humble just like him. I think there's nobody that would imagine that President Trump is humble.
There's also a sense in which one of the great things about Lincoln was that he'd gone through adversity. He had lost time and time again. He
lost his first seat for the state legislature. He lost twice for the U.S. Senate, he never gave up.
And when Trump was asked about his temperament, he said, "I have the very, very best temperament of anyone who has ever run for president because I
never ever lose. I always win."
There's just so many things temperamentally that are so different that I'd like him to look up to Lincoln, maybe he can learn from him, but it's very,
very hard to make that comparison.
AMANPOUR: What about Lincoln's ability to get over or to pass through the storms and the hurricanes of what he went through without reacting on a
daily minute by minute basis?
Obviously, there wasn't Twitter then. But what's the difference there, do you think, in their communications strategy?
GOODWIN: Well, I think there were several things. I mean, one thing that Lincoln understood that there were times when he be really upset with what
was going on, and so he had this ritual where he would write a hot letter to the person, like, for example, General Meade failed to follow up with
General Lee's army after the victory at Gettysburg.
And he wrote him a long letter, saying, "I'm immeasurably distressed you didn't do what we asked you to do. The war might've been over. Now, it's
going to go on month after month." But then, he knew it would paralyze the general in the field. So, he put the letter aside. It was a hot letter,
hoping he would cool down and never send it.
His papers were opened in the early 20th century. And it was underneath, the notation, never sent and never signed.
Now, obviously, the opposite of that is when President Trump gets angry with somebody, that tweet goes out immediately. I sometimes think if only
he had a hot tweet and a cool tweet, maybe things would be a lot better.
He understood that words mattered. He could speak extemporaneously, Lincoln could, as well as anybody. But he knew, when you're president, you
can't do that. So, even though he was a great debater with Stephen Douglas, he would prepare almost everything he ever said to the public,
fearful that he might say something that would be taken the wrong way.
So, he could certainly learn from that in a different way from tweeting when you get angry in a moment of anger or ire.
AMANPOUR: And yet, we are talking almost 200 years later. And this is a completely different communications era. And President Trump's supporters
would say, "It's the very ability to use the language no matter its shape or form and the medium that has propelled him to this success."
GOODWIN: No, that's a very fair comment because I think each president uses the media of his moment to an extreme if they are doing it well.
Lincoln's was the written word. Your speech would be printed in full in the newspaper, so having that extraordinary ability with language helped
him. When Teddy Roosevelt came along at the turn of the 20th century, his short punchy language was able to get into the mass-market newspapers. FDR
had the voice for radio. Reagan and JFK had the looks and the ability to talk on television. And there's no question that President Trump has
mastered social media. Everything he says becomes the narrative of that moment, even if it may not be the right narrative for keeping his agenda
going, it puts him in the center of attention.
So, the question is, though, it allowed him to win the election, I think, in a lot of ways, but governing is different from campaigning. And
sometimes, what you are able to win with has to be censored when you finally get -- maybe people like the idea that he doesn't have a girdle on
hime like many politicians have. But I think it's gotten him into a lot of trouble, some of the things he's said offhand.
AMANPOUR: Let's talk about the governing. Obviously, many critics, as I suggested, are concerned about the degradation of democracy. And again,
going back to Lincoln, who apparently at the age of 28 wrote one of his great speeches and he foreshadowed a sort of Caesar-like figure that might
threaten the United States from within. And President Trump has quite regularly tweeted, loosely paraphrasing from this speech, saying, "America
will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
I mean, that's pretty insightful of him. But is he helping that destruction?
GOODWIN: I agree. I mean, it's fascinating that he called upon that speech to talk about it. And the interesting thing is what Lincoln said at
that time, it was a time of a lot of violence going on, anti-slavery violence, pro-slavery stuff in the south, and he said the only way we're
going to get through this turbulent time is by remembering the values of the founders. We have to reverence law. We have to use our institutions.
And people should be reading about the founders. We shouldn't forget what they did.
And the interesting thing today, when people feel so pessimistic about America, in a lot of ways, the system itself has protections. We've seen
the media, who've been terrorized in some ways by Mr. Trump, and yet the investigative reporting is as good now as it's ever been. We've seen
members of his own party speaking up against him, that's my hope as an historian that the system itself still has lots of power left in it.
AMANPOUR: Well, it's interesting you point to that because in "The New York Times", the conservative commentator, Ross Douthat, has talked
precisely about what you're just saying, and basically saying that you could sort of sum up the presidency maybe as farce rather than tragedy
because none of those things you've said have actually comes true.
And he also says, "For all his bragged talk, Trump has done nothing that compares with the power grabs and norm violations of Woodrow Wilson,
Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush or even Barack Obama."
So, has one prematurely written the dire history of the Trump administration?
GOODWIN: Well, I wouldn't agree with the idea of the power violations of all those other presidents. I mean, what you judge power by is what is the
purpose for which it is being used.
And in those presidents, many of those, I would say, certainly Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, they were using power for expanding, except
for war in Vietnam, expanding the lives and the opportunities of the ordinary citizen. And that's a very different thing from just using power
But I do feel less pessimistic about the country than I think a lot of other people do. We've seen movements, we saw that Women's March on the
day of the inauguration and now we've seen new marches this year.
And as long as there is still only 35 percent of the people that support President Trump and feel good about what he's doing, and they rightfully
can support him, but that means there's 65 percent of the other people who are not happy with the direction in which his presidency is going, not even
policy wise, but his temperament, then I think we're still safe. We don't have to worry that we're entering into some terrible despotism.
AMANPOUR: So, again, you have examined in minute detail some of the great presidents of the United States. But another historian, Sean Wilentz also
wrote this week that, perhaps, it's not constructive to compare President Trump to the great presidents, but maybe to some of the not-so-great ones.
And he said, "Some of them performed reasonably well at first, only to slide into disaster later. Might Mr. Trump grow in the job, making us
forget his rookie season bumbling or should we expect more of the same through 2020?" What do you think?
GOODWIN: I think the real question is whether he can learn from mistakes, whether he can be self-reflective.
Look, JFK's first term was marred by the Bay of Pigs, and yet he learned that the way he handled that decision was wrong. He listened to the
experts in the military. He didn't have enough outside advisors and he changed. And the Cuban Missile Crisis was held in a very different way
because of that.
If you can learn from your mistakes, you have to acknowledge them, however. The Battle of Bull Run was terrible for Lincoln, but he stayed up all night
writing a memo, saying, "Why did this go wrong." So, that's what we have to look for in him. You can grow.
It was interesting. On his 100-day marker, President Trump did sound wistful, the first time I had ever really heard him say that. He said,
"The presidency is harder than I thought. Healthcare is more complicated than I thought. This job is taking more out of me than I thought." And I
was hoping that that allowed him to see some sort of marker.
And it's true when the repeal of Obamacare came, he didn't handle that well. He got the tax bill through. So, I guess, you have to hope you can
learn from your experiences, but you have to have the temperament that allows you to acknowledge mistakes and not blame others for the mistakes
and then you can grow. And certainly, most of our presidents, who have been great, have grown in office.
AMANPOUR: Is it fair to compare the incredible political partisanship today, which people all over the world look at and gasp at, frankly, to the
incredible division that, obviously, Lincoln presided over? I mean, there couldn't have been a greater division than that led to a Civil War.
GOODWIN: No question. I mean, I look at the 1850s and the cultural, political, social, economic notions of the South and the North were so at
war with one another, it was almost like two countries as it seems. And you had partisan newspapers then. In those days, before mass-market
newspapers, for example, if you were a Republican, you were reading about the debate between Lincoln and Douglas, you would hear that Lincoln was so
great that he was carried off on the arms of his achievers. And they'd thought he'd be so triumphant.
If you read about the Democratic paper from that same debate, you'd say Lincoln was so terrible. He fell on the floor; and they were so
embarrassed, they had to carry him out the hall.
So, we had partisan newspapers then. We had a huge division. The sad thing is, though, it ended in a war where 600,000 people died. It's just
really the last 40 years that we've seen this polarization. That's why it's so hard for us.
We've, obviously, had it in our history. And I think it has to do with the people in Congress not spending time with each other. They're not there on
weekends like they used to be with their wives and their children. They don't know how to have a common mission that combines them.
Many of them, 50 years ago, had been in World War II or the Korean War together. So, they knew how to fight across party lines. They spend so
much time raising money. The gerrymandering is so terrible. All these things are fixable.
You know, we think we're in some sort of inevitable situation of decline. But as Franklin Roosevelt once said, "Problems created by man can be solved
by men." So, there are ways of thinking about how to make our system better, but it certainly is not a good time in my lifetime to see the
broken Washington the way it is.
AMANPOUR: It makes one wistful really to listen to you. Tell us about the incredible story of Lincoln's renown, how it even reached to Siberia. You
have a beautiful anecdote about that.
GOODWIN: Well, Lincoln dreamed from the time he was young of doing something that would stand the test of time, that would be remembered. He
was in a near suicidal depression when he came out and said, "I've not yet done anything to make any human being remember that I have lived." But
even Lincoln could never have dreamed of a story that Tolstoy told. The great Russian writer told a story to a New York reporter at the turn of the
20th century that he'd just come back from a remote area of the Caucuses.
A group of wild barbarians who had never left that part of Russia. They were so excited to have Tolstoy in their midst. They asked him to tell
stories of the great men of history. So, he said, "I told them about Napoleon and Alexander and Julius Caesar." And then, the chief of the
barbarians stood up and he said, "But wait, you haven't told us about the greatest ruler of them all. We want to hear about that man who spoke with
a voice of thunder, who laughed like the sunrise, who came from that place called America that is so far from here that if a young man should travel
there, he would be an old man when he arrived. Tell us of that man, tell us of Abraham Lincoln."
Tolstoy was stunned that Lincoln's name had reached this corner. So, he told them everything he could about Lincoln. And then the reporter said,
"So, what made Lincoln so great after all?" And Tolstoy said, "Well, he wasn't just great a general as Napoleon, not as great a statesman perhaps
as Frederick the Great, but his greatness consisted in the moral integrity of his character. And in the end, that's what we should judge all of our
leaders by." Lincoln got more than he ever dreamed.
AMANPOUR: It really is a fantastic story. Doris Kearns Goodwin, thank you so much for joining us.
GOODWIN: You are more than welcome.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was simply assumed that Western democracy would triumph. My next guest calls that the
politics of inevitability and he says it's in dire straits.
Timothy Snyder is author of "The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Professor Snyder, welcome from Yale University in New Haven.
TIMOTHY SNYDER, AUTHOR, "THE ROAD TO UNFREEDOM: RUSSIA, EUROPE, AMERICA": Very glad to be with you.
AMANPOUR: I just want to quote something from your book. It's built around the idea that "if Russia could not become the West, let the West
become Russia." What exactly do you mean?
SNYDER: Well, the basic idea of "The Road to Unfreedom" is that ideas don't have to travel from west to east. They did for a while, but they
aren't anymore. Ideas can also travel from east to west, so from Russia to the European Union or from Russia to United States.
What I meant in that particular quotation is that Russia has not managed to establish a certain kind of regime with a rule of law, with shared social
advancement, with predictable meaningful democracy. And the way that it's resolved that failure is to export it to other people, to the European
Union, to the United States.
This serves a domestic political purpose because you don't want Russians thinking that better things are possible elsewhere. And it also serves as
effective foreign policy because, if you can disintegrate and confuse the legal order in Europe and United States, then those places will no longer
be able to offer any kind of a counter to what you want to do yourself.
AMANPOUR: You've outlined their strategy, but their tactics. So, we know about the interfering in Western elections. You also point a lot to what
happened in Ukraine. Give me more examples of how the rest of the world can become Russians, so to speak.
SNYDER: The philosophy is that nothing is really true. The facts of the world don't really matter.
The strategy is something called strategic relativism. The ideas that you want to convince people at home and abroad that nothing is true, everything
is relative, everything is subjective, and, therefore, there's no point in acting. Democracy is a joke. The rule of law is a joke. We might as well
stay in our couches.
The tactic, the way you convey this is that you get into the minds of your adversaries, whether they're European or they're American. You find the
existing fault lines, whether those are social or whether those are racial and you play on them, and you try to convince people that the only thing
that's really going on in the world are the momentary psychological enmities. There's no point thinking about the real world, about facts,
about how to make things better.
And so, in that light, policy towards Ukraine, that is a traditional invasion combined with cyber information war against the European Union and
U.S., or the campaign to support Brexit or the campaign to support the far right inside the European Union or, for that matter, the cyberwar against
the United States in 2016, which led to the election of Donald Trump, these are all pieces of a larger picture.
The picture is one where Russian reality, an oligarchical regime where citizens aren't supposed to really believe in anything except their own
nation, that this model can be spread everywhere.
AMANPOUR: But on the other hand, couldn't you say that they often overplay their hand? They got a lot of sanctions, which they still haven't got rid
of because of Ukraine, they are now have practically the whole of the Western world united and others around the world in anger and expelling
diplomats over the Skripal poisoning here in London.
Have they shot themselves in the foot and overplayed their hand?
SNYDER: They play what we would normally see as a very weak hand very well.
If you look at the 20th century measures of strength, economics and technology, Russia is actually extremely weak. There's no reason we should
be talking about Russia as much as we do if those are the indices of power.
What Russia has managed to do is to change the rules of the international game, so that power is much less about economics which helps you build a
strong military, it's much less about technology, which allows you have a sense of progress, and it's much more about how we feel about ourselves.
It's much more about our sense of trust, our sense of fear.
In this sense, Russia is winning at the higher level because that's a form of politics in which they're the most comfortable.
If you look at the practical day-to-day reality of American foreign policy to Russia, it's actually astounding how often they win on the basic issues
they are winning. They want chaos inside Washington D.C., they've got it. They want a weak American Department of State, they've got it. They don't
want Americans to investigate dark money, they don't want Americans to close the loopholes which allow foreign intervention in American elections,
we're not doing that. They don't want us to change our basic reliance on fossil fuels because fossil fuels are the source of the power of the
Russian elite, we're not doing that.
On all the basic issues, including investigating cyberwar itself, which would seem to be absolutely fundamental, since the cyberwar of 2016 was a
violation of American sovereignty, on all of the basic issues, it's actually striking how they're winning. We've just gotten used to the fact
that they're winning because of the new norm.
AMANPOUR: Well, Professor, that really is quite chilling because you are describing a supine West, the part of the world with the rule of law, with
all sorts of checks and balances and institutions that are meant to maintain, as America has always called itself, the exceptional nation,
exceptionalism. What are you saying about that then?
SNYDER: I think in order to be exceptional, you have to behave exceptionally. Part of our problem in the last 25 years, since the end of
communism, and this holds in different ways for both the U.S. and for the European Union, is that we've taken for granted that various kinds of
progress were automatic.
We're now facing a test. If we allow ourselves to be convinced that nothing is true, everything is permitted, it doesn't really matter, if we
all become cynical, then our institutions will collapse. Our institutions depend upon beliefs, they depend upon virtues and they also depend upon
depend upon people, including new generations, who are willing to see new challenges and react to them.
So, the West is a set of institutions and beliefs around those institutions. The question is whether we can gather ourselves around those
beliefs and revive them.
AMANPOUR: Where do you think the West went wrong, if it did, in the sort of post-Soviet world? Everybody called it a great triumph for democracy,
the West, as you have written also, the end of history was declared after the Berlin wall fell in 1989. And you describe a conflicting philosophy,
the politics of inevitability that the West has versus the politics of eternity held by Russia and elsewhere? What do you mean by that?
SNYDER: You've put your finger on, I think, the basic intellectual mistake after the revolutions of 1989. The thing that I'm calling the politics of
inevitability is precisely the idea which so many of us held that history was over, there are no alternatives and somehow automatically democracy,
liberal ideas of rights, free trade were going to spread around the world.
We had a quarter century of thinking like that, of thinking that it didn't really depend upon us personally because there were certain laws of history
which were going to make sure that things went in the right direction.
When you hit a shock, when it turns out that that's not true, you have a temptation to fall into another set of ideas, which I call in the book,
which I call in "Road to Unfreedom", the politics of eternity where you start to think politics is not about progress, it's not about the future,
it's about the past, it's about how the same people threaten us over and over and over again.
Russia has already moved into that model. In United States, under President Trump, we're moving in that direction as well with our constant
invocation of America first or making America great again, of a politics which begins from internal enemies rather than from a vision of how America
might, in fact, be a better country.
So, the main thing we got wrong was our complacency. So, the main thing we got wrong was thinking that history or economics was going to do the
political and intellectual and the moral work for us. Now, we recognize we have to do that work and maybe that's a good thing.
AMANPOUR: We spoke almost exactly a year ago shortly into President Trump's first year. And there were the elections in Europe coming up.
Everybody was wondering what would happen in France and in the Netherlands and elsewhere. And you told me at that time that things were going to get
worse for the next 18 months.
So, I wonder how you judge now, in hindsight? We saw that France didn't go to the extreme right racist party of Marine Le Pen. We saw that the
similar candidates in the Netherlands did not win. On the other hand, highly populous groups did win in Italy and racist groups or neo-Nazi
groups are the opposition now in Germany. Where do you come out on balance?
SNYDER: On balance, what I say is that this is a time of rebuilding. And the rebuilding will take years, and not decades. And I think -- years, if
not decades. And it's a mistake to wait for each election as being a sign that things have finally turned around. That's always a temptation to
think that the Trump election means that things are doomed in one direction or, if Macron wins, that means that things are wonderful in the other
In fact, we're dealing with a long-term challenge and a long-term trend. There's bad news everywhere. There's good news in other places such as
Slovakia recently, there's been some good news.
But what I would say is that this is a moment for a kind reconsideration in both the U.S. and the European Union and in the U.K. for what it is that we
actually stand for. Waiting for the next election is another form of the politics of inevitability. We just hope that the trends are going to
The trends aren't going to rescue us. It's going to be the good people like the lawyers filing suits or the reporters carrying out investigations
or the young people who choose to run for office who are finally going to make things turn around. But it's going to take work, it's going to take
encouragements, it's going to take some focus.
AMANPOUR: Do you believe that the checks and balances and the institutions in your own country, in the United States, are strong enough to withstand
the kind of pressures that you are worried about?
SNYDER: Not on their own. Not on their own. That's the whole point. Some of our checks are not working. The legislative branch of our
government, which is supposed to be branch number one, is not serving as a very effective check on branch number two, which is the executive. The
Judiciary may be a bit more effective.
AMANPOUR: Just one final question. You know, it's clear where you stand on, you know, politics. But what do you say to those who say, "Well, you
don't like the current crop of people who've been elected. Certainly, it's obvious you don't like President Trump's policies." But, I guess, people
voted for him because they didn't like the alternative. What's your answer to that?
SNYDER: I've got a very strong view about the sovereignty of the United States. I care a great deal about the sovereignty of the United States.
And what happened in 2016 was exceptional because a foreign country, the Russian Federation, in particular, found ways to intervene in our
It seems that before we break ourselves down into political loyalties and parties, we have to get that right. We have to be a sovereign country
ruled by law first and then we can have our political disagreements.
I'm happy to agree that the alternatives put up in 2016 were imperfect. But what I wouldn't concede is that politics is only ever about the clash
of imperfect candidates. Politics is also about things that are more important. It's about the virtues that we stand for and it's about the
rules, the laws that we choose to live by.
So, it is possible to be very patriotic and have that very patriotism lead you to a concern about the behavior of an individual.
I don't have strong feelings about Mr. Trump one way or the other, but I would like the president of the United States to be an example of the rule
of law here and an example of democracy here. That's what I would very much like to see regardless of the party.
AMANPOUR: Timothy Snyder, thanks so much for joining us.
SNYDER: It's been my great pleasure. Thank you so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast at any time and see us online at Amanpour.com.
And, of course, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.