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Climate Disasters; Interview With Former British Parliament Member Alistair Burt; Interview With British Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 13, 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.
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: There is a tidal wave of Omicron coming.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): The worst week yet for the British prime minister, as the COVID crisis converges with scandals at Number 10 Downing Street. I
ask politicians on both sides of the aisle whether Boris Johnson has any credibility now, when he needs it the most.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was my home until last night.
AMANPOUR: Calamity in Kentucky, a look at the deadly tornadoes and the big climate question: How much do warming temperatures have to do with this?
CLINT SMITH, AUTHOR, "HOW THE WORD IS PASSED: A RECKONING WITH THE HISTORY OF SLAVERY ACROSS AMERICA": If your sense of self and your sense of who
you are is tied to a specific story about this country, and then people begin to tell a different story about this country, it is an existential
AMANPOUR: Writer Clint Smith talks to Walter Isaacson about his new book, "How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across
And, finally, from Afghanistan to Portugal, the famous all-female Zohra Orchestra finds a new home in Europe.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
It's a not-so-happy holiday season for the British prime minister, Boris Johnson. He's used to fending off controversies and crises, but, this week,
it appears that he's in more trouble than ever. With Omicron cases rising and the first British death confirmed, Johnson is set to introduce new
restrictions in a parliamentary vote tomorrow.
But his own party is rebelling, many asking whether the British public will obey new rules, after revelations of Christmas parties at Downing Street
this time last year, when the rest of the nation was under severe restrictions.
And Johnson faces a separate investigation into whether he told the truth about financing and furnishing his own apartment. Now many in his own party
are worried. And it will likely be the opposition Labor Party that saves his COVID bill tomorrow.
My first guest tonight is one of the most senior members of the Labor Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy.
David Lammy, welcome to the program.
DAVID LAMMY, BRITISH SHADOW FOREIGN SECRETARY: Thank you very much. Wonderful to join you.
AMANPOUR: So, listen, we're talking at a time when the prime minister, obviously the opposition party to yours, is facing his worst week yet,
after having faced his worst week yet last week.
Does he have the credibility right now to ram home the public health measures that we have listed, including trying to get a million people a
day vaccinated with a booster shot?
LAMMY: Look, I think that many people watching will recognize that, in Boris Johnson, we have an individual who has taken poses in the public
domain that is sort of clown-like, comedic, the joker, if you would like, Mr. Bean that many people will have watched of British comedy.
We're in a crisis now. This is -- requires a serious head for serious times. And I think that one can't underestimate the sacrifices that the
British public have been asked to make.
Many people have lost their lives. They know someone who's lost their lives, a grandparent. We had a big crisis in our care homes at the
beginning of the pandemic period.
I think your audience will recognize we have a fantastic health system. We have asked doctors and nurses and care workers to sacrifice so much and do
so much over this period. So, in the end, Boris Johnson is the public health lead in chief.
And I think there is a real problem for him if the public perception is that he's not abided by the rules himself. And so this scandal of having
Christmas parties, where you were mingling with people, where you were not socially distancing, when you had asked the public to socially distance,
when you couldn't have social mixing, when you couldn't meet with more than one person, in fact, beyond your family, if he was doing that, if his
Number 10 was doing that, then that's a serious problem.
And if he says, I didn't know that this was going on in my Number 10, then that raises other questions. Look, most people know what's going on in
their house. If the prime minister is in charge of the country, he should know what's going on in the country. How could he not go what was going on
in his own Number 10?
So, of course, there are issues now of credibility, frustration and anger that are pent up across the country, as we now deal with this Omicron
variant, and all the problems that brings to our economy and our society.
AMANPOUR: So you said, if he says he doesn't know, well, that's already an indictment. But, today, he has said that he broke no rules.
I'm going to play you the sound bite.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: I can tell you that I certainly broke their rules, but the whole thing will be looked into by the Cabinet secretary.
And what I'm focused on, frankly, is the vaccine rollout and the campaign to get everybody to understand how vital it is to get boosted now.
QUESTION: So, you have asked (OFF-MIKE) to look at the December (OFF-MIKE) event, just to be clear?
JOHNSON: He's been -- he's looking at all these things.
JOHNSON: And if that is what -- is that the thing with the Zoom call?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: David Lammy, is that protestation of innocence enough for you?
And when I say you, I say the opposition? Your own party leader, Keir Starmer, has said that it's possible that rules were broken, and this may
have to be referred to the police.
LAMMY: In the end, it's for Boris Johnson to recount to the House, to come to the House to say what he has done.
There is an internal investigation that's being conducted by the Cabinet secretary. And it's important to say that people have been prosecuted up
and down the country for having parties, for breaching rules.
And either we live in a country where no one is above the law, either we live in a country where those who make the rules also have to live by the
rules, or we live in a very different kind of country, which is not the sort of settled Western democracy that most people have come to understand
the United Kingdom to be.
So that is why this is serious. Boris Johnson's ratings are tanking, and they're tanking because the British people are upset about this. But
there's also a recognition that we do have to roll out these booster shots, that we do have to make sure that our population is safe and secure at this
And so, we, as an opposition, are working in partnership with the government to get that message across to the British people.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to ask you, why are you going to support the government? Why will labor support the Tory government on Tuesday, when
these very COVID rules that Boris Johnson is trying to pass are coming up for a vote?
His own party threatens by -- I don't know. They're saying up to 100 members of his own party might vote against him. Why will you try to save
LAMMY: So, let's be clear. What we're voting for in Parliament tomorrow, the British Labor Party have been calling for right along.
We never thought that we should suspend wearing a mask, working from home, having to show a certificate or having to get a lateral flow test in the
first place. Now, it may be that, down the line, more restrictions are required. I hope that they are not. But that is why we need to boost our
population over the next two to three weeks, ramp that up as our first defense, hope that more evidence will come to play in terms of the severity
Then we will make further decisions as we come back to Parliament in January.
AMANPOUR: I mean, wouldn't you, then, given the severity of the health crisis and the lack of credibility of the government's public health
endeavor, wouldn't you as the opposition and a very senior member of the opposition think that it would be better for public health to have a
different government, not to boost this government in a vote on these issues?
LAMMY: Look, the nature of our democracy is that it's a first-past-the- post system.
Boris Johnson has an 80-seat majority. So the truth is, in terms of the numbers, we as an opposition cannot see the end of Boris Johnson on our
own. His fate is in the hands of his own party and his own backbenchers.
The rebellion that he will face in Parliament tomorrow is an indication of the division that he's facing in his own party. And you have watched U.K.
politics for many, many years. You will know that the Conservative Party can be rather ruthless when they decide that they're going to get rid of a
leader who is no longer a winner.
AMANPOUR: I think a lot of our viewers would be really interested to hear from you about your recent visit to see President Obama in the United
You went to Washington last week. Keir Starmer, your leader, participated by remote. What were you trying to get in terms of advice or direction or
strategy from Obama? And are you smelling a little bit of blood in the water around the Tory government?
LAMMY: Well, look, the Labor Party has sister relationships all across the world. And I'm very pleased, for example, that Keir Starmer was able to
send his staff to meet with the new German chancellor, the SPD, who have had made gains.
Keir has struck up a very good relationship with the leader of New Zealand. But, equally too, in the United States, it was very good to meet with
Barack Obama and to meet with colleagues within the Democrat Party.
They beat Trump, against the odds, some might say, at that particular time. There's always things to learn from our American friends. Barack Obama was
an outstanding, remains an outstanding political figure. And we are open to listening to all ideas as to how we can get better.
We lost the last general election by a catastrophic amount, the worst performance for a British Labor Party since 1935. Progressives all around
the world are on the back foot in this new populist age, where there are significant issues in our economies.
And it's -- and we have got populist leaders blaming immigrants, blaming the bureaucracy, blaming everything else but the actual issues that are at
bay here. And it's up against that force that we seek to learn from other sister parties and other progressive colleagues, including, of course, the
AMANPOUR: Did you want to let us know how he advised you, Obama?
LAMMY: Well, that would be revealing state secrets.
AMANPOUR: So, finally, before I let you go, do you think then it's really about competent leadership right now? Because, gosh knows that, looking at
the polls and all the scandals -- and let me just quickly run through the scandals that Boris Johnson is facing.
There's the photo of him hosting a quiz at Number 10, when he shouldn't have been, leaked video showing staff talking about Christmas parties in
Downing Street during restrictions, the controversy over funding of refurbishments to his own apartment, and, as we have mentioned a rebellion
by his own M.P.s over new COVID restrictions, allegations of sleaze after trying to protect the lawmaker Owen Paterson, who violated lobbying rules
That's a long list, which has just come out in the last six weeks. Do you think people are moving away from this attraction to Boris the populist and
wanting some kind of credible leadership now?
LAMMY: Competence is the minimum requirement.
But here's the rub. Incompetence in these times costs lives. We're not fighting a war, but, in a sense, it's a war against a very virulent,
dangerous virus. And, for that reason, incompetence is a grave charge at this time. And there's a whiff of incompetence in this government and a
lack of delivery.
The rhetoric, the hype has been strong, but the delivery is weak. And I think there's fatigue setting in here in the U.K. And so, if we're in for
another long haul because of Omicron, I think it can only get harder for Boris Johnson if he continues to govern in the way that he has been.
As I say, his sort of -- his shtick is getting rather old. It's not delivering for people.
AMANPOUR: And we will put that note about his shtick to the former Conservative M.P. Alistair Burt.
Thank you so much, indeed, David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary, for joining us.
LAMMY: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: So, let's now turn to Alistair Burt, who was a senior member of the Conservative Party. And he's joining me now.
Alistair Burt, you heard David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary, describe Boris Johnson he called. Him a joker, Mr. Bean, but most importantly and
seriously, said that incompetence costs lives.
Do you agree with that analysis?
ALISTAIR BURT, FORMER BRITISH PARLIAMENT MEMBER: I don't think there was much in David Lammy's analysis that would be considered at present in the
U.K. unfair or overly partisan.
There is a real worry about the direction of the government at the moment. That's evident from some members of the Conservative Party. It's evident
from the public in terms of their reaction to the number of issues that you listed right at the end, and the prime minister's nature and character is
The problem for the prime minister now is, he's got to find something that so far he's not been able to reveal to the public to restore that sense of
veracity and to recover a sense of competence, which can be done through the success of the vaccine program.
But there's no doubt that, as you said right at the top of the program, the British government and the prime minister is in a more difficult position
than he has been since he won a decisive election two years ago.
AMANPOUR: So, Alistair Burt, you have been a senior member for so long. You have had your own difficulties and disagreements with Boris Johnson as
prime minister and also as Brexit leader.
I mean, you criticized him and rebelled, actually, over his negotiating tactics over Brexit. And now he faces a massive rebellion from his own
party in Parliament as he tries to put in these restrictions. What do you predict will happen in Parliament tomorrow, Tuesday? And what effect will
BURT: Well, the ironies in politics in the United Kingdom go quite deep.
And I chose to leave the Parliament because of Brexit. I disagreed with that decision. And I disagreed with Boris Johnson's leadership of it. But
that was an end of it. I want the Conservative government to succeed. And, ironically, I would be voting for the restrictions he's announcing
tomorrow, because I agree with David Lammy. It's a matter of public health.
Nobody quite knows what the Omicron variation will do. The Health Service chiefs are extremely worried about the impact on the NHS. And one of the
things we know in the United Kingdom, or at least we believe, is that our initial reaction might have been a bit slow when the -- when COVID first
started, and lives were lost because of that, partly also because some members of the Conservative Party were worried even then about over-
I think the government was very determined not to be in that position again, to accept the advice that we should move quickly, even if it meant
some new restrictions, which are not exactly over-onerous, and not the end of the world. And I think what will therefore happen tomorrow is, there
will be a strong rebellion, ironically, from a lot of people who rebelled over Brexit in support of Boris Johnson, now seem to have gotten into the
habit of it.
But the measure will be carried. But it's evidence of an underlying unhappiness in the Conservative Party, which the prime minister will have
to address. But, also, colleagues will have to work out, what's most important to them, supporting our government during a time of national
health crisis, or continuing internal battles in the Conservative Party?
I know what most members of the Conservative Party outside Parliament want to see. The Conservative Party ought to have learned some lessons from its
pains in the past.
AMANPOUR: So, Alistair Burt, certainly for our international audience, Boris Johnson has been compared many times with Donald Trump, the same kind
of leadership style, the same -- there was the Brexit and then the unconventional populism of Donald Trump, the -- that we have seen over the
last four years.
They also likened his survival to that of Donald Trump's, in other words, Teflon. Nothing Donald Trump could use seem to affect him. His base stayed
Do you think that is the case for Boris Johnson? Will his base stay with him? Will this -- if he has a significant rebellion in his own party, will
that start what David Lammy said is the circling a little bit of the sharks in a very ruthless Tory Party who don't like it when leaders are not
leaders who win votes?
BURT: Well, let's be very clear. Boris Johnson is not Donald Trump. And whatever disagreements I have with Boris Johnson, I wouldn't level that at
him. And I wouldn't saddle him with that in any way, shape or form.
There are some superficial resemblances in terms of appealing to people in a different way to other politicians. But there are such clear differences
that I don't make the comparison at all. And I can be very clear. President Obama might have been advising the Labor Party. Donald Trump won't be
advising the Conservative Party about the next election.
But you're right. When those who have appealed to the public sort of lose some of it, a lot of problems that people have not worried about or let go
for a period of time suddenly become very important.
Now, the Brexit issue was of significant importance to a lot of people in the United Kingdom both ways. And Boris Johnson won the referendum vote. He
then won a general election on the back of it. So the public view on that was clear.
Does that outweigh their concerns about other things? We have to see. The issues that you raised in terms of the public's worry about how the recent
COVID issues have been handled, particularly this issue of whether or not the government obeys its own rules, and whether there is a sense of one
rule for them and one rule for us, which, in a class-conscious country like the United Kingdom, is an extremely important charge to level and a very
difficult one to get under, unless you're very clear about it.
Those things really matter to the British public. And regardless of how they might have voted in the past, if they don't think they can trust the
government, and if they do disagree with the line that it's taking, the public mood and the Conservative Party's mood very quickly.
But, equally, a leader can reverse that. But Boris Johnson has a great deal of work to do in order to be able to do that. And he needs a better team at
Number 10 in order to help him, because I don't think they have been a great assistance to him recently.
AMANPOUR: That's interesting. There just seems to be just a lot of chaos with no real plan, as you point out, that one would require in order to
change the current landscape for Boris Johnson.
Just in case everybody was wondering, the polls are very telling. he had, as we have said, a thumping majority in his election, and he's been way
ahead of the opposition Labor Party all the way up until very recently. The latest polls show Labor leading Conservatives by five points in one. Their
leader, Keir Starmer, leads Boris Johnson most capable P.M. by 13 points.
And these are big issues. And the former speaker of the Parliament, who was a Conservative -- he's changed now -- John Bercow, this is what he told
British television just before the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BERCOW, FORMER SPEAKER, HOUSE OF COMMONS: I'm sorry to say it, but I have known 12 prime ministers in my lifetime, and, by a country mile, Boris
Johnson is the worst.
His natural instinct is not to be open, not to be transparent, not to be accountable, but narcissistically to think, what suits me? How can I
extricate myself from this awkward situation? By what means can I arrogate blame somewhere else?
This is way below the standard that the British public are entitled to expect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So that is a very devastating indictment. But you also raised, Alistair Burt, for the British people and, as you put it, in a class-riven
society such as this one, one thing for the higher-ups, one thing for the people doesn't go down very well.
Do you agree there with Bercow's characterizations?
BURT: No, I wouldn't put it that way.
I mean, again, for your viewers to know, that there's significant antipathy between John Bercow and Boris Johnson is plainly obvious. I wouldn't put it
in that term.
What I have said very straightforwardly is that the prime minister now has a real issue with the British public, which he is partly responsible for,
because of the way in which he has handled recent scandals, and also the accumulation of things, which is -- like politics, has the ability to do,
suddenly all appear at the same time.
You will be aware, Christiane, as I am, of the phrase is politics nothing matters very much until one day it all does. And people take all sorts of
things into account, people's misjudgments, and they don't really care about it, because something is more important to them, supporting a party,
supporting a government, supporting a movement, or something like that.
Then, one day, the accumulation of all the things that have gone wrong suddenly matter a lot. And what has happened in the last few days is that
moment has arrived, and that moment arrived particularly because of the evidence of the video and the way in which it appeared that those who are
supposed to be assisting in running the country appeared to be living on a different planet, and gave the sense that, if you work for the government,
if you work at Number 10, you're somehow above it all.
And the lightheartedness of it at a time when people were suffering, and when people could not see other people and could not see their relatives in
the most tragic of circumstances, that was just too much for so many people.
So that is the burden that the prime minister now has to carry. He has to find a way to recover with the public a sense that he does understand. It
will take a degree of humility that up to now the public has not seen from Boris Johnson. It will take some changes to demonstrate whether he is
indeed, as well as a significant campaigner, whether he is a significant prime minister.
That is all up to him and those around him. But pretending these problems don't exist, pretending it's all people playing with politics would be
wrong. It's a serious issue. And it now confronts the British government and its relationship with the people.
AMANPOUR: Well, Alistair Burt, I myself was quite perplexed and bemused I showed the prime minister in an interview I had with him at COP 26, the
climate conference in Glasgow, the issue of masks, he was the only one in a long line of dignitaries, including what I called the national treasure,
David Attenborough, at 95 years old, Boris Johnson was the only one not wearing a mask.
And I asked him about it. And this is what he told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: I have been wearing a mask when in confined spaces with people that I don't normally meet.
And I think it's up to people to take a judgment about whether they're -- whether they're better at a reasonable distance from someone and whether
they're with someone they don't normally -- that's the approach we take.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So that clip went viral. I think more like more than a million people looked at that and said, what is he exactly saying?
And, certainly, the next few days, he was seen with a mask, without a mask in all these places. And now he's trying to get masks passed by his own
Parliament. I mean, does he have a problem with the truth, I guess?
BURT: And -- well, you can go back into -- you can go back into Boris Johnson's past and find a whole series of things.
He was dismissed by Michael Howard when Michael Howard was the leader of the Conservative Party in opposition, because Boris Johnson had concealed
something about a relationship. And all this stuff is well-documented and all that.
And he clearly seems to have a problem with rules that apply to other people. That's what the masks indicate. And that's why it's careless. It's
careless. And you shouldn't be careless as the prime minister. You have got to demonstrate that you're doing the same as everyone else at the time of
Now, as I said earlier, he has got away with a lot, because his style of challenging politics, the way in which he took on the establishment over
Brexit and found a common cause with an awful lot of people, people were prepared to let that go, and they like the slightly different character
that he presents, until, one day, they don't like it.
And that's politics. Suddenly, things have arisen, which show into very sharp contrast that they -- like a Shakespearian tragedy, the things that
make you a success are suddenly the very same things that bring you down, and he is in that territory. Those closest to him must be able to tell him
that. And Boris Johnson has got to be prepared to listen and respond accordingly.
That's where we are. And that's the nature of the bargain with the British people that, if he wants to succeed, he's got to reconnect with.
AMANPOUR: Really fascinating analysis, and, again, from a member of his own party.
Thank you so much, Alistair Burt.
And now to the United States, where more than 100 people are feared dead after a string of devastating tornadoes ripped through eight states on
Friday night into Saturday. Officials say at least 50 tornadoes touched down, leaving behind scenes of utter destruction.
Listen to one Kentucky man describe the heartbreak of losing his family's pharmacy business.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife lost absolutely 100 percent of her income. She's a pharmacist at the store. And then she also had the boutique. She's
heartbroken. And it's hard to, like, get up in the morning to get up, go to bed crying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It is a tragedy.
And from wildfires to hurricanes, the United States has seen a series of intense natural disasters this year, prompting the question, is this the
Here now is Jennifer Marlon. She's a climate scientist at the Yale School of Environment.
Welcome to the program.
JENNIFER MARLON, YALE SCHOOL OF THE ENVIRONMENT: Thanks.
AMANPOUR: So, I mean, I guess the first question, is this the new normal?
MARLON: Well, it's terrible to call it that, the new normal.
And the connections between this particular event and our changing climate are very complicated. But we are definitely increasingly seeing our weather
events becoming more severe and more extreme.
AMANPOUR: Tell me, have you ever seen -- I know you're not a tornado expert.
AMANPOUR: But have you ever seen anything like this? Obviously, you go into climate patterns in your work.
MARLON: Right. Right.
There are a number of ways that this event is unusual. We -- every state has tornadoes, and we have had very severe tornadoes like this in the past
historically, but the conditions right now in this particular event are unusual in some ways.
First of all, Kentucky doesn't get all that many tornadoes to begin with, and certainly not in December. So, a very severe tornado in Kentucky in
December is very unusual. And, also, it happened at night, and that's less frequent than -- normally, they happen during the daytime.
And then, also, it was very long. The path was incredibly long. And, of course, as you've said, head four states or eight states even. And so, the
confluence of these characteristics make it seem anomalous. But the science is going to take some time to sort out, you know, the details of this
event, because we cannot model specific tornado events. So, we can look at the patterns, as we say, and see what might be linked to our changing
climate or not.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just point out. You listed a bunch of things that were anomalous about what just happened. But also, it's saying that
researchers have noticed over the past years a movement of the tornadoes from the traditional tornado alley, which is central in Southern Great
Plains to the Midwest to the southeast of the U.S. And I also heard even coming further east. You know, how do you explain that?
And I know another thing that perhaps is, you know, sort of escapes us lay people, apparently, it's difficult to pin down the science of tornadoes
because they're such rapid events. They're here and then gone and it's not like you have a consistent thing to actually investigate and study.
MARLON: Right. And the first step is to try to identify, what are the characteristics of these events that are changing because as you say, it
can be their location, where they happen is changing. The tornado alley, as it's conventionally called, and yet, tornadoes happen in all states. But
the primary area where tornadoes occur is shifting to the east. And because more people live in the east, that's very dangerous. It means more
populations are at risk and more vulnerable and the type of housing, a lot of mobile housing, for example, is more vulnerable.
So, the location of the tornadoes is changing. You want to try to understand the timing, the seasonality, the daytime versus nighttime
shifts. There's so many aspects of these events that scientists are trying to understand, reconstruct the past history and then assess, OK, what
exactly is changing? That's step one.
And then, step two is, OK, can we now link mechanistically some of these particular changes to the science of global warming, the production of
carbon pollution by human activities. So, it takes time for the science to connect these things but we do know the locations seem to be changing in
particular. And the very ability of these events is also changing.
AMANPOUR: And climate scientists have endlessly told us that, you know, the global warming has an effect on the extreme weather, even if you can't
pinpoint this yet. So, President Biden is going to visit on Wednesday to see for himself what happened and he was asked about the specific link to
climate change. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: A lot of things that we don't know for certain. And I don't want to say anything that's not precisely true. What is
certain, it is one of the worst tornado disasters we've had in the country. And the second thing is certain is that it is unusual. It is unusual how it
happened, how many places it touched down, and the length of the path. So, that's all I'm prepared to talk about right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Let me also just play the head of FEMA, who was a little bit more, maybe a lot more definitive in her analysis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: This is going to be our new normal and the effects we've seen from climate change are the crisis of our
generation. We're taking a lot of efforts at FEMA to work with communities to help reduce the impacts that we're seeing from these severe weather
events and help to develop systemwide projects that can help protect communities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, you know, she's not definitively linking it to tornadoes but she is saying we need to try to figure out how to help communities. You
mentioned population and to an extent, overpopulation. Some of these tornadoes heading to places where the population has grown. That means
there's a lot more emissions, there's a lot more stuff in the way of the tornadoes that can be destroyed.
What do you see as a first step towards, I don't know, modifying behavior, building, urban planning, whatever it might take in these tornado zones?
MARLON: Well, we definitely have to improve our urban planning. The large infrastructure bill that was passed is going to help. But the problem is we
need to also address the root cause because what's happening is human production of carbon pollution is making these events worse. And we know,
for example, that in Kentucky, only 60 percent of people even understand that global warming is happening, only half think human activities are even
contributing to it.
So, people lack basic awareness of how much we are creating our own vulnerability and we are contributing to the worsening of these events. So,
awareness and education is the key component of being prepared and attacking the root cause. This is also a place in the United States that
hasn't seen a lot of global warming impacts like hurricanes.
We know hurricanes are connected to global warming. They're intensifying faster. They're getting worse. They're getting larger. But that's mainly
happening Florida, in Texas, in the southeast. Wildfires out West are happen -- you know, affecting California and Oregon. But places like
Kentucky and the Midwest, this may be the new face of global warming for these states.
AMANPOUR: It's fascinating and thank you so much for your analysis. Jennifer Marlon, thank you so much from Yale University.
Now, our next guest is an award-winning poet and author whose work examines America's complex relationship with race. In his latest book, "How the Word
is Passed," Clint Smith tours the country, examining how America's best- known monuments reflect the state of its racial reckoning. And he's been speaking with Walter Isaacson. The conversation started with Monticello,
Thomas Jefferson's Virginia plantation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Clint Smith, welcome to the show.
CLINT SMITH, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Thanks so much for having me.
ISAACSON: As I was reading your book, the title became more and more meaningful to me. I've seen many layers of it. Explain to me how you chose
that title and what is it supposed to convey?
SMITH: Yes. So, the title, "How the Word is Passed," is actually taken from the quote of a descendent of an enslaved family at Monticello. And so,
Monticello has this getting word oral history project in which they recognize that in order to tell the story of Monticello, they can't just
tell the story of Jefferson but they also have to tell the story of the enslaved families who lived at Monticello, who created memories at
Monticello, who built legacies and communities at Monticello.
And so, part of the way that they do this, because there's not a lot of written documents, given that most of the enslaved population was
illiterate is they do it through oral histories. And so, they collect the oral histories of the descendants of people who were enslaved at the
plantation. And in doing so, one of the descendants of one of the enslaved families said, this is how the word is passed down.
And I remember reading that and being so struck by it. This is how the word is passed down. And I think it connected with and communicated so much of
the idea of what I was trying to get across in this book, which is to say that the way that this history is shared with all of us, the way the story
of America is passed down in so many of these historical sites is often one that is outside the context of textbooks, outside the context of
traditional classrooms, but it's from the descendants, it is from the public historians, it is from the tour guides, it is from docents. And we
are gaining these stories and they're giving us the information and the context with which to understand the world around us.
ISAACSON: And so, you traveled to many places from Goree Island of Senegal, Monticello, you know, to battlefields and other places to see how
the word is passed down. Monticello is a particularly interesting one because it keeps changing in a way. And describe what it was like to be
with the people at Monticello as they're wrestling with how to pass the word down.
SMITH: Yes. Monticello is the first chapter of the book and it's where I wanted to begin the book because in so many ways, I think of Jefferson as
sort of a microcosm for the story of America in the sense that America is a place that has provided unparalleled, unimaginable opportunities for
millions of people across generations in ways that their ancestors could simply never imagine, but it is also done so at the direct expense of
millions and millions of other people who have been intergenerationally subjugated and oppressed.
And both of those things are the story of America. It's not one over here and one over there, it's both of them entangled in one another. And I think
Jefferson, as I said, sort of personifies that. He is someone who wrote in one document that all men created equal and wrote in another document,
"Notes on the State of Virginia," that black people are inferior to whites in both endowments, body and mind. He is someone who wrote one of the most
important documents in the history of the western world and also, someone who enslaved over 600 people over the course of his lifetime in (INAUDIBLE)
of his own children.
And so, when I go Monticello, part of what I'm trying to understand is how do -- how does this institution tell a story about Jefferson that
recognizes him as a statesman, as a philosopher, as a man of ideas, as a scientist, but also as an enslaver and recognize that all of these things
are intimately interwoven with one another.
And I've been curious how Monticello goes about telling that story. And as you alluded to, the way they tell that story today is different than how
they told it 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago.
ISAACSON: They used to have descendants of slaves greeting you dressed in slave livery, right?
SMITH: Yes. I remember learning that and being so unsettled by it, we'll say is a generous way to put that. I mean, it -- they -- it was almost a
sort of gone with the wind iteration of what sort of plantation curation looks like. And now, they are being much more proactive in recognizing
that. In order to tell the story of Jefferson, we have to tell the story of slavery.
And so, they have a specific tour focused on slavery at Monticello and it was led by a guy named David Forson (ph). And in 45 minutes, he gave this
master class of the sort of cognitive dissonance of Jefferson's intellectual project in ways that I had never encountered. And I always
remember these women that met on that tour, women named Donna and Grace. And they were watching him. And as they -- as he was talking, their mouths
sort of hung agape and you could see their faces wilting, and they were clearly having a very emotional reaction to what they were hearing.
And I went up to them and I asked, you know, how are you experiencing or how did you experience so much of what David said. And Donna, I'll always
remember was like, man, you really took the shine off the guy. She said, I had no idea Jefferson owned slaves. I had no idea Monticello was a
plantation. Imagine, these are folks who bought plane tickets, rent cars, got hotel rooms, who came to this site as a sort of pilgrimage to see the
home of one of our founding fathers and had no idea that he was someone who was enslaver. Had no idea that this place was a plantation.
And for me, that moment was important because it reminded me that there's still millions of people across this country who don't understand the
history of slavery in any way that is commensurate with the actual impact and legacy that it has had and continues to have on this country.
ISAACSON: Your chapter on Monticello raised in my mind something I called the Jefferson conundrum when I teach my students here at Tulane, which is,
how do we figure out, how do we memorialize people who were among the greatest people in some of their intellectual abilities but also were
enslavers? How have you thought about what we should do with Jefferson now? Which statues should stay up or which should come down?
SMITH: Yes, it's a difficult thing to wrestle with. I mean, I think first and foremost, when we have to make sure that when we're teaching students,
we have to teach them the full range of the ideas of these founders. I mean, I think -- you know, I think about how for so long I was only taught
the version of Jefferson that was tied to the Declaration of Independence and I had never been presented with the Notes of on the State of Virginia.
And one doesn't -- you know, a teacher doesn't present Notes on the State of Virginia and Jefferson's really racist commentary on blacks and enslaved
people in order to singular denigrate Jefferson or say Jefferson was a terrible person. It's to provide context. And in a holistic analysis, to
make sense of who this person was and how we can understand how their thinking shape the social contract upon which this country should be
And so, I think people of good faith can have different ideas about what should or should not be done with the statue of Jefferson. Obviously, in
New York City, they recently took down a statue of Jefferson in their -- I think in their City Council building and in other places have made
different decisions. I do think it is important to disentangle and just sort disaggregate confederate statues from statues of founders and early
Americans who owned enslaved people.
Because, you know, if we were to flatten it, you know, 12 of our first 18 presidents owned enslaved people, eight of them owned enslaved people while
they were in office. But, you know, Ulysses S. Grant who married into a family of enslavers and was given one enslaved person and then later
manumitted, he's different than, obviously, Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee or (INAUDIBLE).
And so, for me, I think the confederate statues are sort of the low hanging fruit of this debate. The confederacy was a treasonous territory that raise
an army that was predicated on maintaining and expanding the institution of slavery. They wrote about it in the Declaration of Secession. They said,
you know, for example, a state like Mississippi in 1861 it says, our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery, the
gravest material interest in the world.
And so, they're not vague about why they're seceding. And so -- and they're not vague about why Civil War began. And so, I think that those statues,
there's no excuse for them to be on public property, paid for by taxpayer dollars. If you want to have a statue of Robert E. Lee in your backyard,
that's your business. But not in front of a courthouse, not in a public park, not in a traffic circle.
ISAACSON: You talk about the importance of describing people in all their complexity. Teaching all their sides, whether it be Jefferson or even
Lincoln, and others. Yet, nowadays, we have a debate in our schools in which people slap labels like critical race theory that seem, in some ways,
to hurt the ability to be able to teach the complexity. It makes us pick our own sides. How do we avoid that? What's your thinking about what's
happening in schools now?
SMITH: I think it's really unfortunate. I mean, I think that critical race theory is a boogeyman, being utilized to push back against a profound shift
in public consciousness that's happened over the past several years. I mean, I think that very directly, critical race theory is used as the sort
of nomenclature of critical race theory is used as an umbrella term to describe any history of America, specifically, history related to black
people, but often also indigenous people, also Latino people, also different immigrant communities. And that begins to tell a different story
or perhaps a more holistic story about this country.
And the problem is that there's been a shift in public consciousness over the past several years, beginning with Trayvon Martin in 2012, Mike Brown
in 2014, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd sort of supercharged that in 2020. And you have millions more people who now
understand racism not as something that is just an interpersonal phenomenon, like a racial slur, but as a historical phenomenon, as a
systemic one, as a structural one, and as one that's embedded historically and sociologically in the institutions throughout our society.
And as a result of that, it sort of begins to disabuse people of some of the ideas that have been central to the American project and the American
experiment, which is to say the myth of meritocracy. This idea that if you just work hard, you can achieve anything. More people recognize it's simply
not true because of the context from which different communities are emerging and the state sanctioned policy that have prevented some
communities from achieving up with mobility and other -- and have facilitated that upward mobility for others.
And so, when people begin to recognize that, it begins to call into question the very society that they live in. And if your sense of self and
your sense of who you are is tied to a specific story about this country, and then people begin to tell a different story about this country, it is
an existential crisis, it is a crisis of identity, it's a crisis of who you believe yourself or your family and your community to be in relation to the
world. And I think that's part of the reason why we see such vehement pushback and such emotionally charged political discourse around this.
ISAACSON: Faulkner teaches us that, you know, the past is never dead is not even past. And I thought of that when I read your Angola chapter, which
is about the state pen here in Louisiana. And that, in some ways, it reflects so much of the past still being alive today. I remember going into
that execution chamber. I used to bring my students and the people at "Time" magazine on a trip to be in that chamber where they strapped you on
the gurney. You have that in your book. Tell me how that resonated.
SMITH: I mean, for context for people, Angola is the largest maximum- security prison in the country, it's 18,000 acres wide, bigger than the Island of Manhattan. It's a place where 75 percent of people held there are
black men. Over 75 percent of them are serving life sentences and it is built on top of a former plantation.
And what I often tell people is that, if you were go to Germany and you have the largest maximum-security prison in Germany, and it was built on
top of a former concentration camp in which the people held there were disproportionally Jewish, that place would quite rightfully be a global
emblem of anti-Semitism, if it will abhorrent, it will be disgusting. We would never allow a place like that to exist because it would so clearly
run counter to all of our moral and equitable sensibilities.
And yet, here in the United States, we have the largest maximum-security prison in the country, where the vast majority of people are black men
serving life sentences, many of whom work in field with virtually no pay with someone watching over them on horseback with a gun over their shoulder
in fields of what was once a plantation.
And not only does Angola not engage in any sort of meaningful and critical interrogation of its history and the relationship of its history to what
its contemporary landscape, but it also has a gift shop. And in this gift shop, you can buy sweatshirts and t-shirts and coffee mugs and shot glasses
and stuffed animals dressed in prison paraphernalia. And on some of the items in the gift shop, for example, on the coffee mug, they have the
silhouette of a watchtower. And above and below the watchtower, it's written, Angola, a gated community, as if to make a mockery of it or
belittle the experiences and lives of thousands of people and the hundreds of thousands of people over time who have been incarcerated in Angola for
more than a century.
And so, part of what I'm thinking about when I go to Angola or one of the ways that a history of white supremacy not only enacts physical violence
against people's bodies, but also collectively numbs it to certain types of violence that in another global context would so clearly be unacceptable.
And in the execution chambers specifically, I mean, I -- it was -- being in the execution chamber was almost an incredibly unsettling and intimate
manifestation of that history, right? Because we know how the death penalty disproportionately impacts poor black people in the way that it is enacted.
We know that, you know, according to one study, one in 25 people who are on death row are actually innocent, right? And so, 4 percent of people who are
on death row actually are not -- are innocent of the crimes they have been convicted of and yet, continue to do it.
ISAACSON: Your grandfather's grandfather was enslaved. When you talk to your grandfather about this book, as you do in the epilogue, what was he
SMITH: You know, when I interviewed my grandparents for this book, it was after walking with them through the National Museum of African-American
History and Culture. My grandfather is born in 1930, Jim Crow Mississippi. And my grandmother in 1930 Jim Crow Florida. And we were walking through
this museum and I became acutely cognizant of how proximate they were to this history.
When I talked to my grandmother afterwards and -- about all the things we saw in the museum, all the documentations of violence, all the
documentations of this suppressive but violent history, she was like, I lived it. I lived it. I lived it. She kept saying that refrain over and
over again. And for me, my grandparents' stories and my grandfather's story, grandmother's story reminds me that this history that we tell
ourselves a long time ago truly wasn't that long ago at all.
I remember my grandfather walking with him through an exhibit at Emmett Till's casket at the museum and having him tell me that Emmett was killed
in the county right next to where he and my grandmother lived. And recognizing for myself that but for the arbitrary nature of birth and
circumstance, what happened to Emmett Till could have happened to my grandfather, right? And I think all the time about the woman who opened the
National Museum of African-American History and Culture, a woman named Ruth Bonner, who did so alongside the Obama family in 2016.
She rang the bell to signal the opening of this museum. And she was the daughter of an enslaved person. Not the granddaughter, not the great
granddaughter. In 2016, the woman who opened this museum was the daughter of someone born into intergenerational chattel slavery. And so, we often
tell ourselves that this history was a long time ago, but in the scope of human history, it was just yesterday. There are people alive today like my
grandfather who knew, who loved, who were in community with, who had relationships with people who were born into slavery.
And so, sometimes when we delude ourselves into thinking that slavery was something that happened like in the Jurassic period when it, in fact, you
know, was just a few generations ago. And I think my hope is that when people leave this book, that that is one of the things that stays with them
the most, is that we are so proximate to that period of time and it continues to shape our social economic and political landscape in profound
ISAACSON: Dr. Clint Smith, thank you for joining us.
SMITH: Thank you so much.
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AMANPOUR: So vital to contextualize everything within history.
And finally, tonight, hope for the future of Afghan music. Over 200 musicians have touched down in Portugal marking the end of a long journey
to escape from the Taliban. Among the group is the world-renowned all female Zohra Orchestra.
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The members of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music were first air lifted from Kabul to Doha. Now, the school is going to be reestablished in
Lisbon, Portugal. Good news for the musicians, bad news for Afghanistan, amid a dramatic brain drain caused by the Taliban takeover.
And that's it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.