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Interview with "The Play That Goes Wrong" Producer J.J. Abrams; Interview with USA Today Opinion Columnist Rachel Vindman. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired November 16, 2021 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tear gas has been thrown as well. There are flashbangs going off.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Refugees as the targets of chaos. Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist Anne Applebaum witnesses the violence and the political opportunism at the Poland-Belarus border.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're a major world leader. So is the United States.
AMANPOUR: A high-stakes meeting between the world's two most powerful men. We discuss what was achieved amid the ongoing flash points.
Also ahead, Hollywood heavyweight director J.J. Abrams tells me why he's turned to theater after "Star Wars," backing a British farce, "The Play
That Goes Wrong."
RACHEL VINDMAN, WIFE OF ALEXANDER VINDMAN: I feel that I can't just sit on the sidelines. This is the country that I love.
AMANPOUR: Rachel Vindman, wife of key impeachment witness Colonel Alexander Vindman, talks to Michel Martin about leaving the Republican
Party and her podcast, "The Suburban Women Problem."
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Our focus tonight, a standoff between dictatorship and democracy. The first story takes place on the Poland-Belarus border, which erupted into chaos
today, and caught in the middle are desperate migrants. Polish border guards used water cannons and tear gas to push back young men who were
throwing rocks, because these refugees' anger and frustration and now spilling over, after weeks of being stuck in the freezing cold.
Correspondent Matthew Chance was there as it all unfolded
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You can these dramatic (INAUDIBLE) right now, as we're seeing helicopters in the sky and
water cannon firing right behind me on the migrants who are gathered there (INAUDIBLE) spray orange pepper spray, throwing rocks towards the Polish
border guards over there.
I'm going to flip the camera around.
Whoa. Whoa. We're being -- there's a cannon here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And the White House is calling on Belarus to cease its -- quote -- "callous exploitation and coercion of vulnerable people."
The E.U. says it is a calculated thought by the Belarus dictator to lure in migrants and dump them at the E.U.'s doorstep, in retaliations for
sanctions that it imposed after Lukashenko stole the elections and violently suppressed the opposition at home.
Anne Applebaum is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian who saw firsthand what's unfolding at that border. And she's joining me now from
Anne, welcome to the program.
I want to ask you first, this is a callous attempt, as the White House says, but, as we can all see, to use the most vulnerable people as
political pawns in this struggle between the dictator and the European Union and the West.
ANNE APPLEBAUM, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes, I think it's really important for to have some context and understand how those people got there.
These are people from all over the Middle East, particularly from Syria and Iraq. Many of them were promised an easy walk into the E.U. They were sold
visas at very high prices. I was -- heard $1, 300 for a visa. Some paid big money for plane tickets, for a whole travel package, borrowed money from
their whole family in order to go there. And they thought it was a promised way to get quickly to Germany or to Sweden or wherever they have relatives.
Of course, this was a lie. The Lukashenko regime in Belarus is using them as a way of creating pressure on the European Union, particularly on Poland
and Lithuania, which are two neighbors that have taken in a lot of dissidents from Belarus and have been very critical of the repression and
violence that Lukashenko has used against his population in the past few weeks and months, since he stole and falsified elections last year.
The Polish government has also tried to make politics out of this situation, which is not good either. They have -- they're treating it as a
kind of war. And one of the results of that is that people have got caught in the middle. And there have already been some deaths.
But the primary responsibility does belong with the dictator of Belarus, who brought people there on purpose in order for this to happen and is
preventing people from returning to Minsk and returning home.
AMANPOUR: So, Anne, you have studied this situation for a long time. You were at the border. And I will ask for your firsthand assessment in a
But this is part of this global struggle, as autocrats rise and challenge democracy. And you have just laid it out. You, of course, and we have to
say, are married to one of the opposition leaders in Poland, which you always write in your articles.
But you have also written why the bad guys are winning. That's your latest "Atlantic" article. Why are the bad guys winning, the autocrats, in your
APPLEBAUM: Because it's important to see that Belarus is not a single state acting of its own volition.
The leader of Belarus has full support from Russia. And, in fact, as we may want to discuss, there are some suspicions that the Russians have picked
them up to this because they're interested in either using it as a provocation or to hide the fact that they're bringing lots of troops to the
border with Ukraine.
Belarus is also the site of a major investment from China. Belarus has very developed economic negotiations right now with Iran. Belarus has been
defended at the U.N. by Cuba. These are now countries that, although they have very different ideologies, seemingly a theocracy in Iran and a
nationalist dictatorship and Belarus, a communist country in Cuba, actually, they have very similar political systems and very similar goals.
And all of them see democracy, democratic activism, but also the rule of law, and all -- language about human rights, they see all of that as a
personal threat to themselves, because that's, of course, the language that their own oppositions use. That's language that's popular inside their own
And so one of their goals is to seek to undermine democracies, and they do this in a wide variety of ways, but also to help one another. So to -- the
state companies from one of these countries will invest in the state companies of another. They sell to one another. They share surveillance
technology. They share disinformation tactics.
They use the same kind of anti-Western propaganda. So they act as a -- it's not a -- it's not an alliance. It's not organized, but they very much act
like a network. And, unfortunately, Western countries -- or the democratic world, I should say, because it's not all part of the historical West, but
the democratic world hasn't really come up yet with an answer to these kinds of tactics.
We're still surprised. We're still acting like it's an ad hoc situation.
So, now, as you're talking, we're showing these absolutely brutalizing pictures of these poor refugees, migrants, who, as you say, have been lured
under false pretenses to be used as pawns in this game, and are being attacked and are being -- as we know, for months, they have been out in the
There has been some attempt after the violence today by Belarus to move some of them on to some indoor shelters. But what is the West, in this
case, the E.U.'s possible response or even the United States? Sanctions haven't worked? They don't work on Belarus so far.
APPLEBAUM: We haven't really tried harsh sanctions against Belarus yet, actually.
We haven't shut the borders. We haven't cut off trade. We haven't cut them out of the international financial system. I mean, there's still a number
of steps and more to do.
It's also important to understand, I mean, one of the nuances of this story is that, although this has actually been going on since August, these --
the bringing people to the border happened mostly in small numbers starting in the summer.
The Polish government did not ask for help from the E.U. It did not ask for support from the E.U. It hasn't done very much diplomacy. And it's really
only as the situation began to become a crisis and an emergency, as the numbers of people became very large, that the E.U. became involved.
And the E.U. has been involved. There have been -- European leaders have spoken both to Putin and Lukashenko, begun reaching out to (INAUDIBLE) and
to some of the agencies that are bringing people to Minsk from the Middle East, and they have got some of the airlines to stop flying. They have got
some of the countries in the region to act, to offer to bring their citizens back.
So there is some diplomacy happening now. It just that it's happening late. It's the -- we always have these knee-jerk reactions to these situations.
We haven't thought about them in advance. And, actually, this kind of thing has been done before. The Turks have played this kind of game on the border
with Greece. There are a number of other examples as well.
We need a playbook. We need a set of reactions that we always have to this kind of situation, and not this chaos. And there is chaos on the Polish
border. I was there last week. And there are people who've somehow made it through the wire.
The guards cut the fence for them. And they're -- you find A Kurdish family CAMPED in a Polish forest totally disoriented with no food or water.
Eventually, many of them have been helped by local people who've organized kind of rescue, ad hoc rescue organizations, but it's a -- it's very cruel,
it's very chaotic, and it's very disorganized.
AMANPOUR: And in the short time we have left, just -- you were there. You talked to some of these migrants.
What was -- what struck you the most from what they told you?
APPLEBAUM: You know, it's the -- it's the naive hope or the belief that they're going somewhere better and that it's all going to be worth it.
And, of course, many of them -- and some of them are genuine political refugees, and they will get some kind of asylum in the West, perhaps, if
the right circumstances allow it. But, really, having come illegally through the border, and maybe not qualifying technically as political
refugees, it's going to be very difficult for them.
And I feel they have been -- the tragedy is they have been lied to. They have been offered this kind of visa to nowhere.
AMANPOUR: Yes, caught in the middle of these of these big war games almost between our political systems.
Anne, thank you so much, indeed.
And now let's delve further into the global fight to preserve democracy against autocracy, because from opposite sides of the world, the U.S.
president, Joe Biden, and China's President Xi Jinping beamed into each other's offices for more than three hours of highly anticipated virtual
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I think it's very important, as I have told other world leaders, when they ask about our relationship, is that we have always communicated
with one another very honestly and candidly.
And it's -- we never walk away wondering what the other man is thinking. And I think that's an important ingredient for this relationship, to be
open and candid in terms of our relationship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: But there were no breakthroughs.
The meeting did open up communications between the world's two most powerful leaders. On the docket remain a number of flash points, like
Taiwan, trade and human rights.
Here now to discuss from Beijing is Victor Gao, a former top official in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and now director of China National
Association of International Studies, and from Maryland, Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. That's
at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Gentlemen, welcome both to the program.
Let me ask you first from Beijing, Victor Gao. You know there's this -- they call each other old friend, or at least certainly your president
called President Biden old friend. Nice to see you again, old friend. And President Biden, not so long ago, when a journalist asked him about the old
friend, he said, make no mistake, he's no friend of mine. This is all about business.
How did all that go down, the opening, the -- sort of the initial dialogue between the two men in your state-run media?
VICTOR GAO, DIRECTOR, CHINA NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I would say the virtual summit between President Biden and President Xi
Jinping of China truly turn a historical page IN the Chinese-U.S. relations.
And the way President Biden and President Xi, they dealt with each other truly demonstrated the decency, the respect, and the cordiality that these
two countries need to accord to each other.
This is a truly important meeting. It gives all of us a collective sign of relief, because it signals that, in spite of all the challenges and
difficulties, China and the United States, from the heads of state down, should deal with each other, engage with each other to deal with all the
challenges and pressure points and strive for common good, rather than getting onto each other's jugular.
This is a landmark in our bilateral relations.
AMANPOUR: OK. Well, that's a pretty optimistic readout.
So let me ask you, Mr. Daly, whether you agree with what Mr. Gao says and how the Chinese have read into this meeting. Obviously, the meeting itself,
it's a good thing that it happened. They seem to have talked convivially.
Where do you see the strengths and weaknesses of what took place during that meeting?
ROBERT DALY, DIRECTOR, KISSINGER INSTITUTE ON CHINA AND THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's certainly true that it's better that they talk than that they
not talk, but I don't think this was a landmark or that a historical page was turned.
I think it was a small, good step, but it wasn't a breakthrough. What we saw is that both Xi Jinping and President Biden would like to avoid
conflict. They see more danger, especially in the Taiwan Strait, but they haven't yet demonstrated any willingness to change their perceived
interests, their goals, their strategies.
Each is searching for a formula that will get the other to accept the United States or China's prerogatives. And they haven't been able to do
that yet. So, there's urgency, there's concern, there's a will to talk, but there hasn't been any adjustment yet of policies from either side. And so
we are pretty much where we were last week, except that now they're talking.
AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, because you mentioned Taiwan, and I will put this obviously to Mr. Gao as well, because it is huge. And it's been
building for a long, long time.
We report -- we read now from the White House that the U.S. and China, their officials will -- quote -- "intensify communications and discussion"
on the issue of Taiwan. That came out after the readouts and after the summit.
What needs to be done, Mr. Daly, on the issue of Taiwan? What does intensify communications and engagement mean to you?
DALY: I think it means that the Biden administration has to convince China, to reassure China that we are still dealing with Taiwan within the
framework of the one-China policy.
And this is going to be difficult, because we interpret that policy differently. The United States takes a very minimal view. It means -- the
one-China policy for the Biden administration means that we recognize Beijing, and only Beijing, as the leader of all of China.
But, beyond that, we're going to sell China our -- Taiwan arms. We're going to try to get it to have more international space, to have better trading
relationships. We're going to work closely with Taiwan. China's version of what it calls the one-China principle is that Beijing and only Beijing
should determine how Taiwan interacts with the rest of the world.
And we don't accept that. So we have to provide reassurance for Beijing. But it's not clear that we're willing to change any of our calculations to
do it. So intensive diplomacy is exactly what we need.
AMANPOUR: So let me ask you the similar question then, Mr. Gao.
From your perspective, from China's perspective, do you think the United States, certainly the president of the United States, allayed your fears
and your president's fears over Taiwan? And I will just say what your president said. He has warned that American support for Taiwan was -- quote
-- "playing with fire."
GAO: First of all, I think President Xi Jinping just gave the message of simplicity, straightforwardness and elegance to President Biden of the
United States why, if we look at the issue of Taiwan, several things are carved in stone.
Taiwan is part of China. If you read the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, which became pillars of the post-Second World War
international order, then that Taiwan is part of China.
Number two is that there was a civil war between the communists and the nationalists at the end of the 1940s, leading to fleeing mainland China to
Taiwan by the nationalist groups under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. That was a fact.
And the current status between China's mainland and Taiwan is actually the unfinished civil war in China. Now, it is also a fact that, back in 1979,
the United States government abandoned Taiwan as an ally, withdrew all the U.S. troops stationed in Taiwan, canceled its diplomatic recognition of the
people of -- of the Republic of China and abrogated its defense treaty with Taiwan.
For what? For recognizing the People's Republic of China as the sole legitimate representative of China.
GAO: That's all facts.
GAO: Now, we just need to deal with this Taiwan issue within these historical guardrails, because, otherwise...
GAO: ... of this issue and...
But that's kind of a history lesson. And I think a lot of people get it, but what they don't really understand is how far your president and your
country is going to go, because we see a huge and significant readiness, exercises, military exercises by your country, China, off your -- you call
it one-China, of course -- Taiwanese coast, and that you want -- quote -- "peaceful reunification."
But others see it as maybe -- maybe it won't be so peaceful. Does your president have some reassurance after what President Biden tell him -- told
him last night, or do you think it might devolve into a military, I don't know, showdown of some sort in some time in the future?
GAO: First of all, it's very encouraging that President Biden reassured everyone of the one-China policy. This is the most important thing.
Now, the other thing is that the U.S. practice regarding Taiwan is self- conflicting itself, because what the United States has been doing recently adds more fuel to the fire of certain political forces in Taiwan which
demand moving towards independence of Taiwan.
Now, this is the red line. This is the point of no return. What President Xi Jinping told President Biden very emphatically is that there is a point
of no return. Don't go over that point, because, if anyone pushes the situation beyond that point of no return, then China's mainland will be
left with no other choice but to liberate Taiwan.
That is kind of a resumption of the civil war. And I don't think the United States want to be caught up in a civil war between different factions of
China and place the bet in the wrong way.
GAO: You are talking about two sides of Taiwan Strait, which cannot be divided by any force in the world.
AMANPOUR: Let me move over to you, Robert Daly, because, obviously, the Taiwan issue takes up a lot of oxygen. And I don't know whether that's the
intention of the United States, which, from the previous administration and the previous administration before that, have wanted to deal with things
like trade and jobs and the economy and other such -- and other such issues.
So do you think the United States, President Biden achieved anything in those other major points, whether it's climate, because this comes right
after the COP summit, whether it's on trade and the other major issues, including human rights?
DALY: No, we really didn't see any breakthroughs.
President Biden did make his position human rights very clear to Xi Jinping, who, of course, understood the position before the summit, just as
President Biden understands China's positions on Taiwan perfectly well.
Both sides were playing in part to domestic constituencies. It's very important to Xi Jinping that he be seen within China, by the Communist
Party, by the military, by the people as a strong and unwavering leader. It's very important to President Biden that he not be seen, especially by
the Republicans, as in any way weak on China.
So these conversations that they have, these statements that they make are for each other secondarily. Mostly, they are for domestic political
constituencies. And those constituencies in both countries are pushing leaders toward more hard-line views.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me follow up then, because the former deputy secretary of state and now head of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass has
written a long article in the run-up to this summit about, what is a Biden doctrine, what is the Biden foreign policy?
But, about China, he points out that actually the Biden administration has largely maintained its predecessor's policy, predecessor being Trump. Biden
himself has spoken of extreme competition with China. His coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs has proclaimed that -- quote -- "The period that was
broadly described as engagement has come to an end."
So which is it? Is it extreme competition? Has engagement failed? Or what now, Robert Daly?
DALY: Well, I think -- I don't think that engagement failed.
I think that engagement was a largely successful approach to China from 1979 until 2010 or 2012. China actually was moving under Deng Xiaoping,
with the exception of the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, and under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao toward greater personal freedom, greater integration or
What has changed is that China has succeeded economically. It's become wealthy. It has, not surprisingly, wanted to translate that wealth into
greater power and greater global influence. And as it has done that, it has developed interests and pursued interests, some of which had always been in
China -- within the Chinese rubrics, but they hadn't pursued them quite as vigorously.
It's been pursuing interests that are incommensurate with America's interests. So we have a real security dilemma in the Western Pacific. Real
interests are invoked. This is not just a question of America fearing that it loses its hegemony or America having a cold war mentality. We really do
have incommensurate interests, especially in the Western Pacific.
And that's what this is about. We're competing to shape global order, security architectures, trade and financial regimes. Very importantly,
we're competing to shape technology, its development, its regulation.
DALY: And that's now baked in the cake. It's not really China's fault or the United States' fault.
But that is what President Biden is responding to. And that's why he's responding in many ways as President Trump did, because they're responding
to the same developments.
AMANPOUR: OK. Really, really interesting.
So finally, to you, Mr. Gao, because this comes right as your President Xi Jinping has been anointed by the party to basically have a third term, very
unusual, and put up there on a pedestal with Chairman Mao himself.
So, given what Mr. Daly has just said, this inevitable competition is going to continue. How do you see it playing out then?
GAO: First of all, President Xi Jinping in China is highly popular, very much supported, and people do trust him as the leader of China.
I don't think he will just serve for another third term. He may serve all the way up to 2035, so, many, many years of leadership under Xi Jinping in
Now, if we talk about China-U.S. competition, we need to raise a very fundamental question. What do they compete for? Now, you may say China
competes with the United States for the size of the number one economy in the world. No, that's the competition. Eventually, China will be larger
than the United States.
I think the key is that the United States may consider itself to be the top dog of the world. And China has no desire, no willingness to replace the
United States as the top dog.
GAO: Why? Because we see no fun in replacing the United States as the top dog of the world.
AMANPOUR: That's interesting. And we appreciate your perspective.
Thank you very much, indeed, Victor Gao and Robert Daly.
Now turning to one of Hollywood's biggest names, which is also now a top theatrical name, because, thanks to a play that goes hilarious, of course.
J.J. Abrams is the force behind blockbusters like the new "Star Wars" films, but you might not know that he's also the man who took a play that
was first performed over a London pub to -- for paying customers and brought it all the way to New York.
It's called "The Play That Goes Wrong," but it's actually a global smash. More than two million people have seen it in 30 countries. And as it
reopens Off-Broadway, J.J. Abrams joins us now from Santa Monica, California.
So, welcome to the program. Thank you for being with us.
And everybody wants to know what you're doing in the theatrical world. Is this a first for you?
J.J. ABRAMS, PRODUCER, "THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG": It is.
And thanks for having me.
I was in London working on a film, and on a weekend was just sort of overwhelmed and feeling a bit depressed, frankly. And this was long before
the pandemic. And I looked to see what was playing. And there was this thing called "The Play That Goes Wrong," which I'd never heard of.
And I bought a ticket and I went to go see it. And I don't remember laughing so hard in the first half of a play. And at the intermission, I
happened to meet one of the producers. And I heard myself say to him, "If you ever want to take this to Broadway," as if I'd done that before, "let's
talk. It'd be great to help do that."
ABRAMS: And we did talk, and ended up -- it ended up happening, frankly, much to my shock.
AMANPOUR: So just set it out, and I will let you set it out.
It's kind of like a murder mystery that kind of gets upended. I want to read what "The New York Times" said about it, which I think is pretty
He said: "I propose putting your rational mind into sleep mode, the better to savor tickling images of order-inverting bizarreness. There's a wild
redeeming poetry in such anarchy."
Is that a fair take?
ABRAMS: Yes, I think it is.
I mean, look, the thing about it is, and perhaps now more than ever, the sheer absurdity of it. It takes something. It is sort of a bull in a china
shop. The china shop is this murder mystery, as you say. And it's a very sort of classic British murder mystery.
And then things just actually -- just go insane. And what's so much fun about it is, it's got such a big heart. And the people who put it together,
the Mischief Theatre company, they're these just absolutely brilliant writers and performers.
And the thing is done with such love and passion. And I just think that the audience feels it. And I don't -- I can't think of something that people
need more than to laugh in this moment. And "The Play That Goes Wrong" certainly does that.
AMANPOUR: Well, I was going to ask you because laughter is such a nonpartisan event, right?
AMANPOUR: Laughter doesn't know the difference between different party affiliation. So that's great.
ABRAMS: Well, yes, that's such a good point.
I just want to say that, like, especially now in this age of sort of silos and everyone staring at their phones, and being -- the world seems so
divisive, and when you come together in a room with strangers, it doesn't matter, like you say, what your party affiliation is, what your religion
is, what your background is, what -- nothing.
You're in that room, and you're reminded that we are all much more similar than not. And it's a beautiful, and for "The Play That Goes Wrong," much --
a really fun thing to experience.
AMANPOUR: So, I just want to broaden out because I would be unforgiven by the audience if I didn't go into some of your film work and some of the
stuff that you're going to be doing.
But, first, I want to know, because your biography that I read basically says that you had planned to go to dental school until you saw the light
and decided to go to film school. Is that true?
ABRAMS: And, by the way, someone else said that to me.
And I said...
AMANPOUR: OK, we're going to take it out of that.
ABRAMS: And I thought -- I thought that would be such an interesting story.
ABRAMS: I should just say that that's true.
AMANPOUR: You should.
ABRAMS: But, no, I have never been to dental school. But I may apply.
AMANPOUR: No, no. You haven't. But you might have wanted to go. Did -- was that ever something in your wish list?
ABRAMS: No. I --
AMANPOUR: No, OK, fine. Let's move on.
ABRAMS: I have no idea where this came from. No. OK.
AMANPOUR: Let's move on. So, tell me --
ABRAMS: The interview that goes wrong. That's what this is.
AMANPOUR: Yes, the interview that goes wrong. No, it's the biography that was wrong. And we're going to call them out. In fact, we just have.
ABRAMS: That's it. That's it.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you something. Our parent company, Warner Media, has just done a deal with you or you've done a deal with them worth a huge
amount of money to go into the production with them. So, what I want to ask you about is, you know, things like, and it's an exclusive deal, you can
go, presumably, to the DC Comic Sandbox and to all that stuff, which is so successful right now.
After "Star Wars" and "Mission Impossible" and reviving so many franchises, is that what you intend to do? Would that be something interesting for you?
ABRAMS: Well, we are -- Bad Robot, which our production company, we're working on a number of projects. We're doing some projects that are in this
area of the DC Universe that's known as the Justice League Dark that is -- it's particularly exciting. I personally am writing and directing a series
for HBO that we shoot in the spring that's an original story that is not part of DC but as a company, we are producing a couple projects for
television and a couple for features that originate with DC characters.
AMANPOUR: Well, you're producing a new "Superman," aren't you, with Ta- Nehisi Coates? And I just wondered, you know, what you can tell us about that movie, how will it differ? It's really interesting that you're doing
it with Ta-Nehisi and raises the possibility that there could be a black Superman?
ABRAMS: Yes. And I will say that, well, it's too early to talk specifics about the story, I will say that working with Ta-Nehisi is a remarkable
thing. I mean, he is not just, you know, such a brilliant author. He is a huge comic book nerd, which is my favorite thing. And though he grew up
much more a Marvel kid than a DC kid, his love of this character and his insight and his ideas, I can't remember working with someone and being so
inspired every time we talk, every time we meet. So, I will say that it is -- it's something that I could not be more excited about.
AMANPOUR: Well, he really is a conversation shaper these days and he's very influential. And I know you don't want to talk about details, but he's not
just writing the same old "Superman" and you're not just producing, I presume, the same old "Superman." Can you -- do you have any vision of how
it might differ from other "Superman" movies?
ABRAMS: Well, I will say that the ideas that Ta-Nehisi has, you know, there are some really wonderful big swings. And again, I don't want to get him
upset with me and talk publicly about things that are premature, but I will say that the story does feel like a version of "Superman" that we have not
seen before and I can't think of someone more -- I don't know, more exciting as an author for this piece than Ta-Nehisi.
AMANPOUR: Well, you've already giving us a little bit to chew on right now. It will be interesting to see what you both come up with.
But I want to ask you and I hope I haven't got this quote wrong, J.J. Abrams, but I'm going to throw this quote at you because it's you. Several
years ago, apparently saying, I feel like in telling stories, there are the things the audience thinks are important and then there are the things that
are actually important. First of all, did you say that, and what do you actually mean in terms of storytelling?
ABRAMS: I think I might have said that in dental school. But what I think I meant and later when I was sober, what I realize, was that there are things
in stories that when I think sometimes stories get -- if something is successful, often you see, and this is nothing new in sort of any business,
but you see rip-offs and inspired by stories. And a lot of times, the thing that people are copying, the thing that people are retelling or trying to
do are the things that are the sort of big -- sort of -- either the action of it or the genre of it, the stuff that is kind of more artifice or
And the thing that makes something really powerful is what's inside. The characters and their internal lives. And so, when a movie like "Jaws" or,
you know, any successful movie comes out, "Die Hard," you know, whatever, you see dozens of rip-offs of that kind of a thing. And I think what
happens quite often is that people are copying what they think made the thing successful. And usually, the thing -- at the heart of it, the core of
it was something much more intimate.
So, for example, with "Back to the Future," which is just one of the great movies of all time, you know, those writers, Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale,
when they first started working on that, they were interested in telling a story about what would happen if you, as a teenager, met your mother as a
teenager? Like what would you thought of her then? Like, there was no DeLorean, there was no time travel at first. It was just kind of this idea
that was a very sort of intimate primal idea. And so, I just -- I think that's what I meant when I said that, period.
AMANPOUR: And in the context of that -- and now, I do know this because it was on "60 Minutes," Spielberg said that he recommended that you direct
those episodes, if I could say, of "Star Wars," the last of the three there. How much of a mind-blowing experience was that for you? I mean, how
much did you like doing that? It's so iconic and seared into everybody's minds.
ABRAMS: Well, I'll tell you. It's definitely a double-edged sword for a lot of reasons. But I will say that the opportunity and Steven was absolutely a
champion of this and I'm grateful to him for more things than I can count. But that was certainly one of them. And to Kathy Kennedy who gave me the
job. I will say that it was absolutely an honor and it was a surreal thing to step in and there are, you know, obviously, things about doing those
movies that are far more complicated than things I probably, you know, will never be able to talk about publicly because it's just so -- it was such an
overwhelming experience to do them, you know, on both sides of the court.
AMANPOUR: Well, it's been lovely talking to you and thank you so much, J.J. Abrams, who never ever planned to go to dental school and thank God.
We've been talking about the rise of autocrats around the world. And our next guest is not afraid to call one of them out. She is Rachel Vindman,
whose husband, Alexander, was thrust into the national spotlight after blowing the whistle on President Donald Trump's alleged abuse of power.
And in her new podcast, "The Suburban Women Problem," she talks about how her break-up with the Republican Party represents a larger trend of
suburban women following suit. Here she is speaking to Michel Martin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Rachel Vindman, thank you so much for joining us.
RACHEL VINDMAN, OPINION COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: Thank you for having me. This is an honor.
MARTIN: So, you're living your life, you're a military spouse, you're obviously very proud of your husband's service and the work that he's
doing. You've lived in countries around the world. You're back here. And all of a sudden, like everything changes for you. It just -- could you just
walk us through like those first few days where you realized, I don't even, holy cow, like this is a tsunami coming at us. Like what was that like?
VINDMAN: The first few days were pretty awful. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. There was a lot of support, an on (INAUDIBLE) support, of course. But
then, the trolls started coming. And a little bit before that, my husband was called in by the chief of staff of the army, General James McConville.
And at that moment, that conversation, when he told me what happened in that conversation, I knew that his career in the army was over. It took him
a lot longer to realize it. But I could tell from what General McConville said to him, what he didn't say, I knew his career was over.
And then, the next day is really when Don Jr. started in and there was someone else online who was saying some things that weren't true and Alex
is an extremely forgiving person. And he is like, look, Rachel, this person, he's a combat veteran, you know, maybe there's more going on, it's
not true. Let's just leave it. It will just go away. And then, the next day, the president was going somewhere. He actually quoted the guy or
alluded to the allegations that were being made.
And I just thought, you know, I was trying to tell him, it doesn't matter what the truth is. Have you not been watching? Have you not been paying
attention for the past, you know, three years that this man has been, you know, in the -- well, you know, that he's been running for president and
president. The truth is immaterial. If they want to destroy you, if they want to destroy us, they will and nothing else will matter. So, it was
very, very scary.
MARTIN: So, what was that like for you? I mean, were you like checking your phone constantly to see like what the latest terrible thing was being said?
Were your friends all calling you to ask if you were OK? Like what was that like for you?
VINDMAN: Yes. I mean, at that point, I think we enjoyed, you know, a lot of bipartisan support because even the attacks that were made on Alex, I mean,
people knew it was patently untrue even if they disagreed with what he did or how he did it, but, you know, because he was, you know, a member of the
military in service, he certainly couldn't do media and speak out. So, it was very hard to not have the truth out, to not be able -- for someone to
be making allegations and saying about you and just having zero ability to respond, and that was really frustrating to me.
At the same time, I know the truth. I know who we are. And because -- you know, throughout our relationship and time together, that has been tough.
We've had to lean on each other a lot of times. So, I found, you know, comfort in that, and of course, you know, my closest family and
friendships. But it is -- it was frustrating, very, very frustrating.
MARTIN: Were you ever afraid? Because one of the things these trolls are known to do is to threaten people.
VINDMAN: Many times. Many times I was afraid. So, definitely, after the closed-door testimony and then after the public testimony, in particular,
there were Senator Marsha Blackburn's tweets, which the very witty Vindman is the whistleblower's handler and other comments like that. She really has
a way with words. But those comments, especially, as stupid as they were, definitely led to an uptick in rhetoric and threats.
We did get some letters to our house and we definitely -- our local community -- you know, the army made sure that we, you know, have
protection. But I was very, very scared for my husband's safety. I mean, when he would go to work, I was afraid for him at work in his work
environment because they knew everywhere he was going and what he would do. I didn't even know the extent of it, which is probably best until later of
all the ways that they were making his life very miserable. And -- but fortunately, I guess they left us out of it at home.
MARTIN: So, now, you've made the decision to actually keep speaking out. Talk about that. You've become a columnist for "USA Today." You have a
podcast, which we're going to talk about in a minute, where you kind of grapple with some of these issues. You know, some people would just kind of
like, I'm done with this. When that chapter is closed, you're like, please close the door again. I never want to talk about politics and I'll just
disappear. That was not your choice. Tell me more about that, like why?
VINDMAN: Because this moment, this fight that we have is ongoing and I have a platform and I think it's my duty to use my platform to speak out. It's -
MARTIN: What are you feeling right now?
VINDMAN: You know, it's difficult. It's -- this is always a difficult question for me to answer of the why, and I guess, you know, as I said to
my first "USA Today" column, just the most authentic version of myself right now. I feel that I came to on the sidelines. This is the country that
I love. I gave up my career ambitions. I gave up a lot when I married Alex to be a military spouse and I did so gladly because I thought it was an
extension of his service to our country. And I know a lot of military spouses feel that way. But when I realized that just a regular person's
voice could have a difference, I felt I had to use it.
MARTIN: How did the podcast start?
VINDMAN: So, the podcast is really just women talking to women and having discussions. And that is something I can completely relate to. And I often
liken it to, you know, our bus stop moms' group. So, you know, people have come and gone and moved. My daughter is in fifth grade. We've -- I've been
doing the bus stop thing for six years. And, you know, everyone comes from different backgrounds and their different political views, but we have one
really key thing in common is that we all have children. They go to the same school and we care about them a lot.
That's a pretty big base from which, you know, you can talk about a lot of things on that level. And if you talk about, you know, you start
disagreeing, as you build up, then it's -- I respect those women that I have made those relationships with so much and I think that there's a place
there that we can talk to each other and even have the hard conversations. And I think as a nation, we can do that as well.
But I really like to focus on women. It just is -- it's where I feel most comfortable. I -- also, in addition to the podcast, I am on the advisory
board of the Renew Democracy Initiative, which is a bit more highbrow, I guess. But, I mean, in terms of, you know, what they're trying to do. But I
feel like that's a place where I can still be me and, you know, still bring my unique perspective, which is with like democracy is being attacked and
how can we get people to understand that's happening. And again, I feel like it's easiest through conversation.
MARTIN: Well, let's dig into that for a minute here because that is the vantage point a lot of people are fascinated by. I mean, first of all, just
how Donald Trump got elected to begin with. Like how do you understand that? A lot of people still feel like, well, wait a minute, you had the
most qualified woman, probably in history, probably the most qualified candidate in history, and people are like, nah. And so -- and, you know,
picked somebody who had never held public office, had a terrible reputation for racism and misogyny. So, let's just start there. Like how do you
VINDMAN: I had definitely already been moving away from the Republican Party, that goes without saying, I guess. But it's not something that only
when it happened to my family. I didn't have the sense of mediacy (ph). I didn't have an appreciation for how dire the situation was. And, you know,
to the question, why did I think this -- how did it land with me and was I surprised? I mean, yes.
Since then, what I have learned is a lot of people in our country don't feel heard. And right, wrong or indifferent, Donald Trump made them feel
like someone was listening to them. A lot of people feel very left behind and no one is answering their questions, no one is talking to them.
MARTIN: Let's fast forward to an election that just happened. I think you live in Virginia.
VINDMAN: Yes, I do.
MARTIN: Yes. And this was one of those races that people were paying a lot of attention to. It was -- you know, Virginia is a state that Biden won
handedly. And, you know, two years later, Glenn Youngkin, another businessman, first-time candidate, you know, kind of really leaned in on
issues that, frankly, some other people considered racist or at least race baiting.
So, I just want to point out that Glenn Youngkin, there was a 13-point swing from where -- among white women from Joe Biden just two years earlier
-- I mean, two years later, Glenn Youngkin, as I understand it, went won 50 separate percent of white women's votes in Virginia compared to 43 percent
for McAuliffe. This is according to NBC's exit polling. So, what do you think happened there?
VINDMAN: I think that Terry McAuliffe didn't talk to the voters. When he made the gaffe that he said he was not going to have parents in school, the
response -- the campaign's response was to have an ad that primarily had teachers. And I sent an e-mail and I said, have you thought about doing an
ad with parents, the response from parents? And, you know, I got an e-mail back. Thank you for your feedback. And that was it.
MARTIN: The classic, thank you for your feedback.
VINDMAN: Yes. It's humbling always, right? And then, the organization that does my podcast, Red White and Blue, which is then, you know, very -- they
were very active in this election and helping actually local school schoolboard candidates.
You know, 72 percent of school board candidates who ran again, crazy right- wing, like anti-CRT nonsense, they won. 72 percent of people won. But you know how they won? They won because they addressed the concerns of the
So, we made an ad, very low budget. I mean, it was a good ad, and the campaign actually took our ad, took their ad off with the teachers and put
the ad of Virginia moms on. But I think it was just too late to really make a difference. But, you know, fundamentally, I think, unfortunately, Former
Governor McAuliffe, didn't listen to people and didn't talk to them.
Because, you know, here's the deal, Michel, when people are scared, they're scared. Whether it's a real fear or not, whether it's the culture war, CRT,
whatever the case may by, you can't just say, that doesn't exist and we're not going to talk about it. You have to, you know, meet people where they
are. You have to talk to people, whether it's individuals talking to people, politicians also have to talk to people and understand what they
MARTIN: You have been very open about the fact that you have left the Republican Party. You said that that was kind of a long time coming. And
after what happened to you and your husband and your family, it really wasn't much of a choice. But at the end of the day, are you more
disappointed with the Republicans or the Democrats at this point? Because you've had some words about the Democrats too.
VINDMAN: That's a tough question. I am disappointed in people who don't see the urgency to protect democracy. So, the Renew Democracy Initiative just
published a letter signed by, gosh, I think it's 50 dissidents from 30 countries around the world who were looking at the United States screaming,
shouting, jumping up and down saying, there's a shark behind you. Get out of the water. And people are still floating around, you know, playing
around and splashing around. And people are trying to warn us. They're on the shore. They've been there. They understand. And we're still going along
like nothing is happening. And everything is OK.
And I guess, in some ways, I may be on the shore also because I feel that what happened to my family, although it's probably not going to happen, I
mean, it's a very like specific instance, but I think norms are being eroded. People are being attacked, and you're not listening. You're just
going on with life because, hey, the economy is OK and it's probably going to be all right. And, you know, this is --
MARTIN: I have what I want, so I don't care.
VINDMAN: Yes. Exactly. I mean --
MARTIN: Well, I want to read from one of the things you wrote in one of your columns. You said, as is the case with many, I identify as a one issue
voter at this time. When I look at a ballot, the only thing I see is a choice between democracy and a slide toward authoritarianism. Those are
very strong words. I mean, unfortunately, we've been hearing them so much over the last few years that perhaps it doesn't strike people as alarmingly
as it might have five years ago or even 10 years ago.
VINDMAN: Sure. Yes.
MARTIN: But what can people do?
VINDMAN: They need to vote. That's really important. But engage. Engage, learn what your elected leaders are saying. I would hope that people are
just absolutely appalled by this nonsense of -- you know, ask your elected leaders, what are you doing? What are you doing to protect democracy? What
are you doing for accountability for January 6th? Meaningful things. What is being done? Are we ever going to have accountability for the, you know,
complete tragedy that we saw on January 6th? The attack on our democracy? How many more warnings do you need?
And I think, you know, people need to -- if they believe in something, if they believe that democracy is worth saving, if they believe that we need
leaders of integrity, they need to go out and advocate for it. We had, you know, people who were helping with the McAuliffe campaign. I mean, good
candidate or not, again, it goes back to this choice. Is someone who's going to talk about election integrity? I mean, Glenn Youngkin would not
admit that the 2020 election is legitimate. That's a deal breaker for me. I don't care what he promised to do. And that right there, we're done.
But, you know -- so, we needed more people. But people were saying, oh, maybe he's not that bad. He'll be OK. No. If you can't admit that a free
and fair election was indeed free and fair and that we should have had a peaceful transition of power, which we didn't, then you're not the
candidate for me, and more people need to just say that. Like I'm not even going to engage with you. I'm not even going to listen to what you feel or
say if we can't agree on very basic things.
But, you know, I don't know what Glenn Youngkin personally believes. Maybe he doesn't believe that as some people have tried to say. But the fact that
he was willing to go along with it, I mean, if you can't stand up for basic things and get elected, then I don't think you deserve to be an elected
official to the United States of America.
MARTIN: But you're also critical of the Democrats. I mean, you write in "USA Today" in a piece that's published just this morning, you wrote, too
often when a former Republican -- future former Republican never-Trumper says something objectionable to a Democrat, their loyalty is immediately
questioned. They are loyal to democracy and willing to put in the time and effort to defeat Trumpism. More importantly, if we are going to win, we
need their votes. Tell me more about that.
VINDMAN: Every single day on Twitter someone tells me that I'm not progressive enough. That I am new to the party and that I, maybe because of
that, shouldn't have such a say. And it's not -- I mean, it's not just me. I'm, I guess, a bigger target. But I see people saying it to others all the
time. And it's -- there's so many people who have jumped on to help.
You know, it will be great when we get back to talking about tax rates and, you know, other, like those halcyon days of, you know, how much should we
spend on the military, et cetera, et cetera. So -- but that's not where we are now. And it's going to take everyone to win this fight. This fight is
the fight -- this is still the fight for the soul of America, because the soul of America is democracy and that's still what we're fighting for. So,
that's why it's going to take everyone. And if everyone is going to be on the team, everyone needs to feel like they're a valued member of the team
or they might just not show up to the game, and that's the worst thing that could happen.
MARTIN: Rachel Vindman, thank you so much talking with us. I hope we'll talk again. And somehow, I suspect that we will.
VINDMAN: Thank you very much, Michel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And that's it for now. Good-bye from London.