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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Finally Resigned; Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Will Take Over As The New York Governor; Senate Passes $1 Trillion Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill; Taliban Seizes More Land In Afghanistan As U.S. Nears Withdrawal; Interview with Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Husain Haqqani; Interview with Louis Menand; Interview with Cecily Strong. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired August 10, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN HOST: We'll get into the details in the days ahead. Thank you so much for joining us on this very breaking news day of Inside
More ahead this after New York Governor Cuomo resigns in the wake of a damning sexual probe. Also waiting here, President Biden, he will be soon
at the White House, that again, after the Senate passing a sweeping bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Don't go anywhere. Ana Cabrera picks up our breaking news coverage right now.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Amanpour. Here's what's coming up.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Under withering pressure over sexual harassment allegations, Governor Cuomo finally resigned. I talked to top New York
State officials, Andrea Stewart-Cousins about what's next. Then, Biden's biggest foreign policy test yet, pulling out of Afghanistan. As the Taliban
seize more land, the former NATO chief and former Pakistani ambassador to the United States join me.
LOUIS MENAND, PULITZER PRIZE WINNING AUTHOR: If you'd asked me when I was, you know, 12 or 15, what's the most important thing in life, I would have
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Pulitzer Prize winning author Louis Menand talks to Walter Isaacson about "The Free World", American art and thought during the
And finally --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm assuming you're not very happy with the job that President Biden is doing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a disaster.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Saturday Night Live star Cecily Strong talks comedy and tragedy with her poignant memoir, "This Will All Be Over Soon".
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. And we start with big news out of New York where three-term
Governor Andrew Cuomo has resigned today. Finally bowing to pressure after the New York Attorney General released a report concluding that he had
sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo continued to deny he ever crossed any line, but he admitted that it was best for the state, if he does, in fact,
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: And I love New York. And I love you. And everything I have ever done, has been motivated by that love. And I would never want to be
unhelpful in any way. And I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will take the reigns in two weeks time, and she will now become the state's first ever female chief
Andrea Stewart-Cousins is New York Senate Majority Leader and she is joining me now from Yonkers. Mr. Stewart-Cousins, welcome to the program,
Majority Leader. How surprised were you --
ANDREA STEWART-COUSINS, NEW YORK STATE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: It's very good to be with you.
AMANPOUR: -- that he did take this step after -- how surprised have you been given that he was defiant, he was digging in, he said, according to
those allies who still stood with him that he wanted to fight this out?
STEWART-COUSINS: I was frankly surprised but, you know, I believe that certainly, he did the right thing. The reality is, and that's why it's from
March, I and so many others had suggested this was the right thing for him to do because it had been a distraction. It was becoming a large
distraction. And we do know the Governor to be a fighter, and there was that expectation that he was going to continue to fight.
But the reality is we do have so much to do in New York, we are facing COVID. As you know, we're trying to get kids back to school safely. We're
trying to deal with our economic recovery, and the litany of allegations and accusations and we're just piling up. So, this was the right thing to
And I always am grateful, frankly, that these women came forward, and they exercise an incredible amount of bravery. And I think our government will
going forward under our first female government, Governor Kathy Hochul, will be one that will continue to work towards a safer, more inclusive,
more conscious workplace and that's what this is frankly about. It's a very, very difficult day though for all of us.
AMANPOUR: I do want to get obviously to the women what Governor Cuomo has said about them and the other things he said in his press conference while
resigning. But first, I want to ask you because I think everybody wants to ask and know, does this head off the impeachment process? Is it resignation
or impeachment or could you all continue that process.
STEWART-COUSINS: Well, very much as it happens in the federal level. The impeachment process does not happen in my house, which is the Senate. It
happens in the Assembly. And, of course, as of yesterday, they indicated they were planning to go forward with hearings, public hearings and start
working their way towards impeachment. For our Senate House, we were getting our ducks in a row of trying to interview counsel to make sure that
when it became the trial in the Senate, we had all the appropriate resources that we need.
So it's up to the Assembly, whether or not they want to continue down the path. Again, the conversation for many of us, the majority of my members, I
think about 40, out of 63, we're calling for the Governor to resign so that we could really do what people sent us here to do, which is obviously to
serve their needs.
AMANPOUR: Well, the state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, as you know, just the day off to Attorney General Letitia James's report said the
following about the writing on the wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY JACOBS, NEW YORK STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR: I think there's a consensus in the Assembly that he should be impeached, that could happen
within a matter of weeks, if not sooner, and then it goes to the Senate. I don't see any possible way he avoids conviction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So this was obviously before today, obviously, before the decision the Governor has taken. But is it fair to say that there was no
support for him and that he had to take this decision?
STEWART-COUSINS: I think it was -- as I said, there are 63 members in the Senate. And I believe at last count, 40 of them had called on the Governor
to resign. Now, I -- it was clearly not a good place for him to be in. And it was not only just we in the government, but polls after poll, we're
showing that the vast majority of New Yorkers wanted the Governor to resign. I think the last poll I saw was about 80 percent, I think it was a
Quinnipiac poll, that said 80 percent of the people wanted him to resign.
It was just, you know, too much for too long and too many allegations. And there really did not seem to be a path forward. That would not exhaust
everyone resources and everyone's attention, when, as we know, the real attention is supposed to be on the people that we're here to serve. So, it
seemed like it was going to be a very, very long road. And I imagine, you know, the public sentiment as well as the loss of confidence among those of
us with whom he governs, he looked at -- and he's looked at his family, he looked at so many things.
And as he said today, he certainly did the right thing by allowing us to not have to exhaust the level of resources, that we would have to raise --
to really exhaust in order to address all of the different allegations. What the Assembly will do? I don't know. I imagined Speaker Heastie will be
meeting with his conference, to have that conversation. And I'm sure as soon as they decide whether they're going to go forward or not, we will be
But I really, again, I'm happy that this very, very difficult part of, you know, this -- I mean, this past couple of years has been honourable between
the COVID pandemic. And then to be at this point, I'm really happy that this is over so that we can get back to our business.
AMANPOUR: So let me ask you as one who's fought for women's rights, for all sorts of minority rights in your state for so long, what you made of the
Governor talking about the women. On the one hand, he said a lot of the allegations were not credible. This is what he said about the Attorney
General's report. This is what he said as he was resigning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: When there is a bias or a lack of fairness in the justice system, it is a concern for everyone, not just those immediately affected. The most
serious allegations made against me had no credible factual basis in the report. And there is a difference between alleged improper conduct and
concluding sexual harassment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So I guess I just want to ask you --
AMANPOUR: -- what you make of the casting of aspersions against the state Attorney General and against some of the women who came forward.
STEWART-COUSINS: Well, let's be clear. I am the very first woman leader in the history of New York, the Attorney General also historic in terms of the
first woman elected to be Attorney General.
We all had confidence in the Attorney General's ability to take these women's allegations seriously, and that's what happened. The 165 page
report had corroborated evidence that the Attorney General brought forward.
The fact that the Governor was, you know, apologizing or trying to characterize is certainly something that he is, you know, entitled to do.
But the reality is here in New York, certainly, under my leadership, we have been very clear about what sexual harassment looks like, we've been
very clear about zero tolerance of sexual harassment. In the workplace, we've been very clear that toxic work environment especially with a more
inclusive, a more welcoming environment has no place in the workspaces.
And we also know that the Governor was very proud of the leadership role he took in making sure that women all over understood that he was an advocate.
And he was very happy to sign the legislation that we passed. We held the first hearings on sexual harassment under my leadership in 25 years. So,
this is something that, as a majority, we've taken very serious, as a government we've taken very, very seriously.
And so, I just want to make sure that going forward, and that's what I said in a statement I just released that this is going to be a restorative
period. But it's also going to be a period that reaffirms those values that we hold true. It's not enough to profess them or to create policies, we
have to actually walk the walk. So, I think that this is a reset, we are finding new leadership in, you know, again, Lieutenant Governor soon to be
governor, Kathy Hochul.
And it's an opportunity for all of us to, you know, go beyond this, and make sure that we are indeed leading the nation in what workplaces are
supposed to be about. Boundaries are important. And we've made, you know, government policy to say they are important. We have to act like they are
important. And I think this is going to be a major step to making sure this is happening in workplaces all over our government.
AMANPOUR: So I wonder what you make, because we were showing the video of actually some of what you were talking about, especially in 2018, the
Governor was signing a bill extending the statute of limitations to rape charges. And we saw a number of Hollywood stars and other luminaries,
women, you know, accompany him as he signed that. And he's long positioned himself as a crusader for women's rights. He spoke today about being, I
think, the first or one of the first states in the nation to make same sex marriage law.
And yet, he also said that the women were correct to have been upset if he had crossed the line, but that he didn't realize how far the lines had
crossed. And yet, this is an opposed Me Too environment. So what does a chief executive of anything have to know these days about where the lines
STEWART-COUSINS: Well, you know, again, I think that this -- if there were chief executives around that really don't know where the lines are, this is
going to be a lesson on where the lines are. Again, you may think it's perfectly fine to kiss people, you may think that it's perfectly fine to
ask people before, you may think a lot of things, but the reality is not what you think, it's what the people experience. And clearly, at least 11
women experienced something very, very different than what the Governor thought he was conveying clearly.
Now, I hope again, going forward, that we will all understand the boundaries. We are in a time where these things matter, a lot of things
matter, and making sure that it's more and more women come into our workspace. As I said, I'm in a, you know, a workspace that had been
predominantly male, predominantly white male, this is changing. And with those changes has to come changes in our behaviours.
So if you didn't know, you should know. There are boundaries and, you know, don't cross them. And obviously, if you're not sure, err on the side of
caution. A simple hello is always good, especially during this time, we were all concerned about COVID. No need to hug, no need to kiss, you know,
simple hello. An expression of appreciation is really all that's necessary.
AMANPOUR: So let me finally ask you to reflect on the fact that this is a legendary New York family. His father was Governor for three terms. He has
been for three terms, wanted a fourth term. Kathy Hochul will come in as the first ever woman governor of New York. Just reflect a little bit on,
you know, the family that has gone after, you know, years of leadership, and the new leadership that will come in its place.
STEWART-COUSINS: Well, you know, I think what you're saying is true, the Cuomo legacy is long, it's reached through generations. And, you know, I
think, hopefully, no matter whether you spent the short time or a long time in government and public service, that you come to do public service. And
that's what this is really all about. It's about what you've left behind, how you've helped people, have you been able to do good.
And so, I think all of us with a mindset towards service, are just happy to do that service. So I am sure that the Lieutenant Governor, as she steps
up, will also be mindful. I've worked with her for quite some time, she's spent a lot of time travelling New York, she knows New York, she knows New
Yorkers. And again, she's been very, very supportive of women in ways that are very much appreciated, especially -- you know, because we are still not
the majority of people in these spaces. And so to have a woman of power, reaching out a hand or being supportive is always good.
And public service will be, I'm sure, at the front of what she wants to do. I've spoken to her earlier, I told her that I was looking forward to being
helpful as she moves forward in this position. And like I said, I think that we will, you know, be in a better place, post the governor's
resignation, and with an opportunity, frankly, to restore and to continue to rebuild New York in all of its greatness.
AMANPOUR: So you don't believe what he said, but this is all just politically motivated against him?
STEWART-COUSINS: I don't. I mean, I don't believe that, that this is a political motivation. It isn't. It is the reality of what people experience
in their workplace. And again, it was a very, very long report. I had an opportunity to read it. There were a lot, a lot of very difficult things in
The fact that the trooper experienced something that he didn't think she should have felt the way she did about does not really stop us from
wondering why she was experiencing any of these things. I think people know the difference between a, you know, slap on the back and some of the things
that were described throughout the report, and the corroborating evidence was really beyond the pale, beyond the pale certainly for a workplace.
I'm sure and I'm never going to discount people's motives, but again, we let the Attorney General, we're here as the Attorney General to
investigate. And I was certainly supportive of the investigation. It was an independent investigation. And it was extensive. There were 74,000
documents that they come through, there were 100 -- I think 79 witnesses, and I understand that the attorney for the Governor was saying things were
cherry-picked or whatever.
But the reality is that there was evidence, there was evidence and corroborated, a good deal of what was in the report. And obviously if we
were going to go through an impeachment, they would have an opportunity to do whatever rebuttal they had to do. I believe that the right thing
happened today. I believe that there was enough evidence in the Attorney General's independent report.
STEWART-COUSINS: And with all the documentation and evidence to come to the conclusion that the Governor came to, I certainly wish him well. But I do
think that the right end has happened.
AMANPOUR: Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, thank you very much indeed for joining us today.
Now, Cuomo's resignation is a major setback for Democrats. But in the United States, Congress today they did score a big victory. The Senate
passed President Biden's sweeping trillion dollar infrastructure bill. Nineteen Republicans joined Democrats to make it bipartisan and advance the
legislation which now heads to the House.
But Biden is under intense pressure to change course on Afghanistan. America is almost out from there and the Taliban is moving in with rapid
speed. The offensive by the Afghan fundamentalist is happening much faster than feared. The group claims it has now taken over its seventh provisional
capital in just five days. And this is all happening since the President decided to end America's longest war and essentially leave Afghanistan to
fend for itself.
Here is Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby putting that burden on the government and the security forces there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: They have an Air Force, the Taliban doesn't. They have modern weaponry, and organizational skills, the Taliban
doesn't. They have superior numbers to the Taliban. And so, again, they have the advantage, advantages. And it's really now their time to use those
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: With me now, a former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Husain
Haqqani. Gentlemen, thank you both very much for joining us. And you've both been in your positions at crucial moments in America's longest war. So
let me ask you, Mr. Fogh Rasmussen who monitored or rather oversaw so many of the troops there, is this a gamble that you think will pay off? What do
you think right now when you hear the burden being put on the Afghan forces as the Taliban is sweeping up territory shortly before the U.S. pulls its
final soldier out?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, FORMER NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: Well, I think the objective of this decision is right, but the timing is wrong. The objective
is right because we should leave it to the Afghans to decide the future of Afghanistan, we shouldn't be there forever, it's not an occupation force.
But we should have told the Taliban, we will leave but not until you stop the tax on the legitimate government.
And the mistake was to approve a so-called peace deal where the United States promised to leave Afghanistan on a certain date because the Taliban
just waited us out and that's what we are witnessing now -- and that's why the timing is wrong.
AMANPOUR: So let me turn to you Ambassador Haqqani, who are in Pakistan, obviously, who has a huge experience, at least your country, its military
forces, its intelligence with what the Taliban are up to. Do you agree it's the wrong time? And how did the United States get hoodwinked into allowing
the Taliban to simply continue without making any of the promises and commitments that Secretary Fogh Rasmussen is talking about?
HUSAIN HAQQANI, FORMER PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: First of all, a lot is said about America's longest war. But the truth is that America
never planned to stay in Afghanistan for 20 years. Instead, what we had were 21 year plans. And this is the latest of it. Let's turn it over to the
Afghan government without talking to the Afghan government about what were its needs, and how it will take over the fighting from NATO troops.
As far as the Afghan government's ability to withstand the Taliban pressure is concerned, I think we will see a stiffening of resolve in Kabul, and the
people of Afghanistan will resist the Taliban. But from the American perspective, it was a mistake to prolong the war without a plan. And it was
a mistake to rely on Pakistan the way the reliance was had. And lastly, it's a mistake to leave without making transitional arrangements, as the
Secretary General said, allowing the Taliban to wait the withdrawal out.
AMANPOUR: So I'm interested, you're a former Pakistani Ambassador, you say it was a mistake to rely on Pakistan. Is that because of what everybody
knows, and that is that Pakistan, frankly, had the Taliban's back throughout this?
HAQQANI: Well, you do know Christiane, that I have been a critic of Pakistan's Afghanistan policy. But that said, let us understand what's been
happening for the last many, many years. Pakistan's concern in Afghanistan is what it sees as existential threat from India. The west never agreed
with Pakistan's perception, but then they never did anything about recognizing that as long as that perception exists, Pakistan will do what
it sees in its interest rather than doing what the rest of the world tells them to do.
So this whole game that has been played for 20 years of telling the Pakistanis that we know you're supporting the Taliban but not recognising
why they are doing it, and at the same time, not giving up on hoping that Pakistan will help in ending the military capability of a group that they
see as acting in their benefit. That, I think, has been a huge policy mistake in Washington, D.C.
AMANPOUR: And Secretary General, let me ask you what the United States is saying now. Mostly they're saying that we have given as much as we can over
20 years to get the Afghan government and its security forces up and running. Let me just play this soundbite which is the White House Press
Secretary talking about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President made clear after 20 years at war, it's time for American troops to come home. He also feels and
has stated that the Afghan government and the Afghan National Defense Forces have the training, equipment and numbers to prevail, and now is the
moment for the leadership and the will in the face of the Taliban's aggression and violence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So when you look at the future, I mean, answer the question, why didn't all these trillions of dollars step, you know, stand up a tougher
Afghan security force? And do you think, given what we're seeing on the ground right now, they can actually fend off the Taliban?
FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, it's a good question. And, of course, and I think we should tell the Afghans that they have to unite, they have to ensure more
cohesion in the Afghan society to fight the Taliban. But having said that, I think we can do much more to assist the Afghans. First militarily, by
targeted airstrikes to help them. We should provide military equipment, we should continue a training mission, and we should help them keep Kabul
airport on government control.
Economically, we should promise billions of dollars in aid, provided that an Afghan government fulfills basic (ph) democratic principles, respect
human rights. And finally, I would say we have to help the interpreters and others that have assisted us during our presence in Afghanistan.
And we should do that right away without hesitation, because that's also a question of credibility. How can we count on people to help us in the
future if they risk that we will let them down when we are leaving. So the Afghan security forces can do a lot, but I think we should continue to
AMANPOUR: And I want to get to the women as well and the moral case for the intervention as well as the anti-terrorism case for the intervention.
First, the anti-terrorism. It appears the United States has concluded that the Taliban or an ISIS or al-Qaeda regrouping there will not be able to use
it as a terrorist safe haven for attack on the homeland. First, you Ambassador Haqqani, do you think that's a reasonable thought?
HAQQANI: Christiane, I've been around long enough to know that such assessments are often wrong. We remember when the Americans made that
assessment after the Soviets left Afghanistan. And of course, we saw that 9/11 brought the Americans back into Afghanistan. I think instead of
relying on assessment of consultants sitting in Washington, D.C., people should listen to people who are on ground.
And the fact remains, the Taliban remain close to al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda remains determined to do what it did before. And it's only a matter of time
before they threaten the U.S. Homeland once again. Just because there is no immediate or imminent threat does not mean that you are going to allow a
terrorist safe haven to re-emerge as it existed before 9/11.
Lastly, when you have spent so much in blood and treasure to try and create a country that can be your ally, why abandon that alliance? There were
three things that were done that were horrible. First, a deal was done with the Taliban rather than with the Afghan government about American
withdrawal. Second, the Taliban's request or demand for the release of 5,000 prisoners that the Afghan government was forced down the throats of
the Afghan government. And those 5,000 people are now back on the battlefield.
And lastly, the withdrawal was done in such a precipitate manner, that the two or three things that the -- that NATO had kept in its hands, logistics,
airpower, maintenance of aircraft for the Afghan Air Force, that those things could not go through a proper process of transition. I am hopeful
that the people of Afghanistan will resist the Taliban.
But the Taliban victory is not going to be a local matter, it will create a safe haven for the Islamist Global Jihadist Movement.
AMANPOUR: Well, on that note let me ask you finally, Secretary General, you know, as the chairman of the joint chiefs in the United States said, we
have seen this movie before. This is what a Biden/Obama administration did after 2011 pulling out all U.S. forces from Iraq only to see ISIS sweep
into the vacuum.
And then years and years of putting back U.S. forces and years and years of air strikes to get rid of ISIS. Do you -- are you concerned that this might
happen again? And by the way, what does all of this mean for the moral cause, for the women, for all of those who put their faith in democracy and
RASMUSSEN: Yes, I'm very much concerned about that. I have to say I fully agree with the ambassador and his assessment. It is correct that we have
achieved our goal. Afghanistan does not serve any longer as a safe haven for terrorists. We haven't seen terrorist attacks launched from Afghanistan
during those 20 years. In that respect, we have achieved what we wanted. But we have no guarantee that will continue.
On the contrary, we risk, in particular, if the Taliban will get a strong position in the new government. We risk terrorism, organized crime, drug
trafficking, refugee flows, et cetera. And you mention the fate of women and girls. And I think that is really a matter of concern. We have achieved
a lot of social progress in Afghanistan, on top of the military. We have seen life expectancy has risen. We have seen improved literacy. Infant
mortality has decreased. We have seen more students in schools. And at least many more women, many more girls have got an education. All that is
at risk now.
AMANPOUR: These are very sobering words. Sobering conversation. We'll continue to follow it. Secretary General -- sorry. Sorry, thank you.
Secretary General and Ambassador Haqqani, thank you for joining us tonight.
Now, the word freedom, of course, gets thrown around a lot these days but what does it actually mean? Pulitzer Prize winning author, Louis Menand,
wanted to find out in his new book "the Free World" explores the very concept of that freedom. He joins Walter Isaacson to discuss how it has
within expressed in the best possible ways through music, art and literature.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And, Professor Louis Menand, welcome to the show.
LOUIS MENAND, AUTHOR, "THE FREE WORLD: ART AND THOUGHT IN THE COLD WAR": Thank you. I'm very excited to be here.
ISAACSON: You and I were both born in 1952 and we grew up with the concept of the free world, which is the title of your book. What did that concept
MENAND: Well, that was the slogan of the liberal democracies in the Cold War, particularly the early Cold War, which is the period I cover in the
book by 1965. And if you grew up then, at least for me. I don't know what it was like for you, Walter, but I kind of internalized the concept of
freedom as a kind of ultimate value in life. And if you would ask me when I was, you know, 12 or 15 what's the most important thing in life, I would
have said freedom without really thinking too hard about where the idea came from.
So, the title of the book refers most explicitly to the Cold War context. But then when I wrote the book and started writing about artists and
writers and so on, I found everybody uses the word freedom to describe what they were doing. That was fascinating to me.
ISAACSON: How did this concept of freedom get reflected in the art of the 50s and early 60s.
MENAND: Well, there are all kind of different versions of what counts as freedom. So, the art -- the main idea behind it is that artist is free to
express their views or their inspirations in any form that they want. That's important in a Cold War context because the Soviet Union had an
official aesthetic. Socialist realism.
And if you didn't write or paint or compose music in what's -- as Stalin regarded as appropriate form of socialist realism, your work was banned.
You couldn't be published. People couldn't hear your music and a lot of very well-known artists suffered in the Soviet Union. That was -- and that
was well known to people.
So, for the United States, countries in the free world, for propaganda purposes, we wanted to promote the idea that there is no official aesthetic
in the United States. You can paint abstract painting, you could paint representational painting, you can paint soup cans, you can do anything you
want because the state doesn't tell you how to express yourself.
ISAACSON: One of the wonderful things about your book "The Free World" is it is filled with these fascinating characters that are pushing the bounds
of art and culture with the notion of freedom under their banner. Let's talk about some of them and let me start with Jackson Pollock. You say he
solved the problem in art. What was that?
MENAND: The problem that he "solved" was the problem of creating an abstract painting. That is harder than it seems. So, you know, late 1940s
when Pollock comes on the scene, there is a lot of interest among American painters, and if we now call the abstract expressionists, about creating an
abstract kind of painting. But he arrived at that style almost accidentally.
Now, why did that solve a problem? So, the problem with painting from the point of view of abstraction is that most painting is illusionistic. So,
when you look at a Monet painting of a hay stack, let's say, you think you are seeing a hay stack. It is an illusion of a hay stack. What you are
really seeing is paint. With Pollock, it is just paint. There is nothing behind the paint. So, it was pure abstraction. And also, incredibly
effective painting that nobody ever seen that kind of painting before, nothing exactly what Pollock was doing.
When you go to the museums today and there's a number of major museums, of course, have Pollocks, got close to a Pollock. And look at it, it's very,
very delicate surface. It's very hard to imitate. People have a hard time trying to reproduce those paintings. It looks like anybody could put a
stake in a can of paint and go like this but only Pollock kind of knew how to make into a painting.
So, that's a case where -- and I know it's something you are interested in yourself, Walter, in your own work where the biography of the painter
serendipitously coincides with a particular moment in the history of, let's say, painting, that makes that painter's work suddenly visible and
important to people. And the influence of Pollock goes all the way up to the 1970s in American art.
Not because of the abstractions that created and the dripping, but also because of the way he made, the way he danced around the canvas, the way
his own body was, so to speak, part of the process of producing the work of art, has a big influence on happenings, performance art, even feminist art.
They look upon Pollock as kind of figure who made the artist part of the artwork.
MENAND: You talked about James Baldwin. And nowadays, there's been a revival with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Eddie Glaude having done a great new book
on him. But why was it in the 1950s, white people in particular, had real trouble with him?
MENAND: Yes. So, Baldwin is -- as I'm sure many of your listeners know, he's a fascinating figure. Very complicated man. And there are sorts of two
parts of the answer to your question, Walter. One is that, what's interesting about him, just from the point of view how his own story
intersects with the civil rights movement, is he spent nine years in Paris. So, in 1948 he exiled himself to Paris. He wanted to get out of the United
States. He was suffering from racial discrimination, homophobia. He was very unhappy here. And so, he went to Paris, which was much more welcoming
to somebody like Baldwin.
And he spent -- he didn't come back until 1957, which is after Montgomery Bus Boycott was over. And when he came back, from France, he got involved
in civil rights movement because he met Martin Luther King Jr., he went to the south to write for magazines and he met King and he was very impressed
by King. Remember, Baldwin was a boy preacher in Harlem and his father was a preacher. So, he knew the world of black ministry and he didn't really
respect a lot of those people but he respected King. Dr. King was a great man, which he was.
And he got himself involved with the movement. And then he wrote this book, "The Fire Next Time," which is probably his most famous book which is
basically two essays that he wrote about race relations. And they are quite personally but also reported. I mean, horrible writing. It comes out in
And then, there is a backlash among white liberals against Baldwin, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag, a number of figures start criticizing Baldwin. Why
are they doing this? They are doing this because Baldwin's message from the beginning was this is a white people's problem.
There is something wrong with white people and they need to own their participation in the regime of white supremacy. White liberals did not want
to hear that. White liberals did not think of themselves as part of regime of white supremacy. They thought they were fighting to overthrow that. And
Baldwin comes along and says, you have to fix yourself, man, before you can fix race relations. Don't worry about us. They didn't like that. That's my
So, by end of the 1960, he's very marginalized. He told the story in the book about Henry Louis Gates Jr., was a reporting "Time" in 1970s and he
went to the south of France to interview Baldwin for peace, it's 1972. And he sends it into his editors at "Time," they said, Baldwin is pass A, we're
not interested. This is less than 10 years after "The Fire Next Time." So, Baldwin's message just did not resonate with certain kind of reader,
certain kind of white reader.
I think it's because basically he's saying same thing in the Black Lives Matter movement saying the same thing, which is that all white people are
involved in the regime of white supremacy. And now, we get it, right? But 50 years ago, 60 years ago that was a very tough message. So, Baldwin is
really prescient, I think, about identifying something about the nature of American race relations that a lot of people didn't want to talk about.
ISAACSON: Martin Luther King, in your book, you know, frames the struggle as a struggle for freedom. He's always talking about let freedom ring,
instead of equity. How does that play into today?
MENAND: Well, I do think that is an example of King's understanding that at that moment, the language that would appeal to the federal government.
Because basically, he's appealing to the federal government to intervene in southern rights relations. That is what he's trying to do. The language
that would appeal to them, they could get behind is the language of freedom.
So, in the "I Have a Dream" speech, which is August 1963, which everybody knows that speech, he uses the word equality once in the entire speech and
uses the word freedom or liberty like 20 times. So, King believed in equality. But equality was a slogan of an older generation of civil rights
leaders and he didn't think that was going to -- I think, I don't know if he ever said this, I think he didn't feel that was going to work in
appealing to people like John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, but they could get behind the language of freedom.
Why? Because it cast the federal government in the role of rescuing an oppressed people. As they say, black people lived below the (INAUDIBLE).
They could make a triumph of Democratic governments out of what had really been a failure of Democrat governments.
ISAACSON: You write about Susan Sontag and her great essay against interpretation. And you say it helps us open up to all different forms of
art, high and low. Was that part of the freedom idea that informed American art in the 50s and 60s?
MENAND: Yes. Absolutely. I think it was. You know, so she comes on the scene in the early 1960. She's an incredible predacious (ph) intellectual.
You know, she knew about everything. She knew the classical music tradition. She knew film. She knew European literature. She knew
continental theory. I mean, very few critics in that period who match her for that, for her knowledge. And she's, of course, very smart person and
she was interested always in figuring out what was going on at the moment.
So, she writes this is essay called "Against Interpretation," that you mentioned, 1964, and calls for "an erotics of interpretation." It's not
quite clear what that means except it means you shouldn't respond to art intellectually. You should respond sensually. You should let the work of
art affect your feelings, indeed affect your body, the way you feel and not just try to figure out it that.
That opens up a lot of stuff that was previously not considered important to pay attention to. Like Hollywood movies, pop music. So, this is the time
'64 when the Beatles come, when everyone was listening to The Supremes. You know, there's -- people getting interested in Hollywood movies again. There
is a moment somebody has to come along who is a real intellectual and say, it is OK to like this stuff. Here is why.
ISAACSON: In your book you have Hannah Arendt. And she says that there's a central question about anything, art, society, is, will it lead to
totalitarianism? He's going to push us towards a more authoritarian system. And whether it's George Kennan or George Orwell or Hannah Arendt, that
seems to be a theme throughout the book. How worried are you about the totalitarian temptation and do you see a rise of authoritarianism coming
MENAND: Right now. Yes. So, this is a big preoccupation of the period. I mean, you know all about George Kennan, Walter, but -- Hannah Arendt too,
but Orwell, particularly. So, 1984, is a warning. This is what the future could be like for everybody. That book is not about communism. That book is
about a totalitarian future that the whole planet will be living through. So, people did think, well, this could happen here. It happened to Germany.
It happened to Russia. Why couldn't -- it could happen here. So, this is a big anxiety of the period.
We have something of the same anxiety now. I would say -- I would use the term you used, Walter, authoritarianism. We worry that people are tired of
liberal democracy. It is very demanding because requires us to tolerate stuff that we don't like and people think, oh, there is a way out of this.
We get somebody to sort of isolate those people or silence those people and make things the way we want them and not worry about what other people
think. So, it's always a challenge to keep liberal democracy alive. We felt that in 1950s. I think they're feeling it now.
ISAACSON: Is free thought and freedom under assault these days on campuses?
MENAND: It is always under assault everywhere. I mean, as you know, the whole history of the First Amendment is people trying to erode it. Look, if
you say something I don't like, I'm naturally interested in preventing you from saying that again. So, the First Amendment or -- and just the
protocols of free speech protect you from people who try to silence you. But there's all kinds of ways of silencing people that don't try to on the
law. You can be shunned. You know, you could be told shut up or whatever. So, that is just -- it's just part of free speech.
It is what I said earlier. That liberal democracy is very demanding on people because it requires them to put up with things they don't feel like
they want to put up with. So, speech is a good example of that right now. But as long as I've been in the business, I've been teaching for 40 years,
there's always been questions about politically correct speech and stuff like that. It is just part of campus life.
And it is important that it is because schools are a place where you can have these conversations without blood being shed. At least ideally. Where
you could talk to people about what counts as an appropriate expression or what might be offensive to people and so on. And that's kind of what we're
in business to do. It is difficult. It is very sensitive but it is important.
ISAACSON: Why is freedom important?
MENAND: Yes. So, as I said earlier, when I was a kid of course, I thought, oh, freedom is the ultimate goal. And as I started thinking more about it,
of course, you go to graduate school, you read sociologies, what is freedom, what does that actually mean? Autonomy? What does that mean?
Freedom is a feeling. It's not so much having to do with the conditions of your life, though, of course, the conditions could be more or less liberal,
it has to do with you feel about yourself. Do I feel I'm freely making choice for myself? That is really important to people. Even if I give the
example of the South Vietnamese who fled after the north took over the south in 1975. They didn't have a word for freedom but they knew what it
meant not to be free. They knew what the feeling was when they fled that country. So, I think that feeling is really important to people.
Right now, in the 60s, the idea of freedom was kind of a liberal or left- wing value. Today, it is a right-wing value. But the people on the right who say that feel that they are being deprived of freedom. We feel like --
I feel like what's wearing a mask? What is the big deal? It's a good thing to do. But they feel somehow that they are being deprived of their own
autonomy. And it is important to recognize when people feel that because, I think, it's a fundamental value of being a human.
ISAACSON: And why is it a fundamental value to value human freedom?
MENAND: Because we're not herd animals, you know. Because we want -- we have the ability, because we have minds to make choices. We're not
biologically determined in what we do. And we want to -- that's a very important aspect of our species. I think we want to respect it and honor it
and cherish it and protect it. And I think -- I'd assume most of our listeners feel the same way. They want to feel that way.
You could live in an authoritarian country and identify with the country's cause and leaders and values and feel free. I wouldn't. But other people
might. So -- but it is important -- that's an important aspect of people. We're all different. The higher rank (ph) was very big on this. It's
pluralism. We're not all part of a species like a herd. We're actually these individuals. And she thought the most important thing about political
structure that they have to recognize, plurality. The way people are different. Membership in our species prerequisite is that we're not the
same as everybody else.
ISAACSON: Professor Louis Menand, thank you so much for joining us.
MENAND: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, tonight, the freedom to be yourself. My next guest is a double Emmy-nominated comedian and veteran of "Saturday Night Live."
Cecily Strong is a household name for the colorful characters she portrays but it is not all laughs and skits for her. The sudden death of her beloved
cousin from brain cancer last year and her own isolation during the pandemic has caused her to reflect on her life and struggles. The result is
a new memoir, "This Will All Be Over Soon." And Cecily Strong is joining me now from New York.
And welcome to the program.
CECILY STRONG, AUTHOR, "THIS WILL ALL BE OVER SOON": Thank you.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you because everybody wants to know, Cecily, first and foremost, are you their beloved SNL comedian going to sign up for
STRONG: I still don't have an answer yet. But I promise I will soon. I think my team and I -- we haven't even had a big talk yet. We've been -- we
wanted "Schmigadoon" to come out. And now, I get the book today. And so, I think probably in the next week or so we'll have the real talk.
AMANPOUR: OK. Well, you'll tell us, you'll whisper it in our ear first. So, "Schmigadoon" this amazing series about the musicals, the sort of
throwback to the past and particularly your book is really revealing.
What -- I guess when I said freedom to be yourself in my introduction, you have put yourself out in a very sort of new way trying, I guess, to tell
people that it is not all laughs inside and that you have had a very difficult time. You've had your own depressions. Your brother has suffered
with that. There's been suicide attempts. And it's all extrovertism (ph). How and why have you don't that now?
STRONG: I think when I wrote -- I was unable to really process and write about losing my Cousin Owen in January 2020 to glioblastoma. It just felt
it was so big and so heavy, and I really did feel like I have so much grief and I have so much love at the same time and didn't really understand that
until I was able to sit down and write. And I wrote an article -- I just wrote and I sent it to a couple of friends, it became the essay for New
And the way people responded, it felt like maybe that had helped a couple of them or been helpful in some way or gave them some kind of peace and it
thought, that's the way I can now -- that's how I can talk about my cousin, if it feels like it is about helping other people, because that is so much
his spirit and what he did for me.
AMANPOUR: And, Cecily, you are such a public person. And we have seen Simone Biles and we have seen Naomi Osaka and we can name any number of
others who have taken the mental health aspect of the pressures on their life and decided to come out with it and saying, it is not all about
winning. It is not all about pushing ourselves. We have to think of our emotions too. Did that crystallize for you during COVID unlike any other
STRONG: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, I think that everybody has been through a lot, to some level, and I don't know that everybody even has recognized
that. And so, I say I feel like my edges were softened or something and I'm a bit more vulnerable. And I think, you know, it is easy to be very snarky
in comedy, and I sort of prefer when comedy has a heart. And I think now is a great time to share our hearts.
AMANPOUR: So, you've led me into the snarky comedy part of this. Funny. You are constantly portraying the Fox News personality, Judge Jeanine
Pirro. And particularly, apparently that she likes a good drink sometimes. Anyway, here's a little clip that everybody loved of your last scene on
SNL, jumping into a vat of vine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STRONG: I ate it up and spit it out. I've faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, I mean, it's great. And there you go sinking into the vat. And apparently, it was really quite stinging on your eyes. What are you
trying to say there?
STRONG: You know, really that was just -- at this point, I don't know that we're saying anything about Judge Jeanine. It is more -- it's like I get to
play this kind of big clown character that she's become on our show, that she is not in real life. And it was very fun to perform and it -- you know,
it was the first time we had a live audience and they were so wonderful. It just felt -- you know, it was very electric and it felt it was really
exciting to have the opportunity to perform for that crowd. And why not then get into a giant vat of wine? What a way to celebrate it. Dunk
yourself. Like a baptism.
AMANPOUR: And with the famous song, too. Indeed.
AMANPOUR: And finally, you know, on your book "This Will All Be Over Soon," you've said, the world is upside down. I'm holding devastation and
love in equal measures. What is bad timing when the timeline seems irrelevant? Do you think this will all be over soon?
STRONG: You know, I think some things will be over soon. I think things change. And they won't be what we thought they were. That's not very clear.
But it is kind of -- it is not a very clear time. And I don't know where we go forward or backwards. You know, you bring people into your life that you
thought were out of your life. It is just -- there's -- it's been a weird time. And I think if, we'll do it best if we sort of expect the unexpected
and stay open and try to be as least fearful as we can.
AMANPOUR: Staying open indeed. Cecily Strong, thank you so much. And we'll wait for your announcement in a week so. Thanks a lot for joining us.
STRONG: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And that is it for now. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.