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Protecting American Democracy; Interview with "Finding Your Roots" on PBS Historian and Host Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Interview with The Atlantic Staff Writer Ed Yong. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired January 04, 2022 - 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.
AMANPOUR: Was January 6 just a dress rehearsal? Nearly a year on, why hasn't more been done to hold the ringleaders accountable and protect
American democracy before the next election?
HENRY LOUIS GATES JR., PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: We are walking family trees.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.
AMANPOUR: Grappling with the past. Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. talks about America at a troubling crossroads and the new season of his hit
series, "Finding Your Roots."
ED YONG, "THE ATLANTIC": The whole problem with this pandemic is that we have been too focused on individuals. And the problem is systems.
AMANPOUR: A COVID course-correction. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ed Yong tells Walter Isaacson how we can finally stop making the same mistakes.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Why is truth-telling important and what are the consequences of buying into a big lie? Those answers to those vital questions are playing out right now
before our eyes, from Hong Kong to Hungary, to the United States of America. Democratic values are being chipped away by leaders for whom only
actual elections matter and winning them by any means necessary.
The most dramatic example, of course, exploded onto our screens nearly a year ago. Rioters pumped full of misinformation by President Trump's
stormed the Capitol. And over the last year, Republicans have restricted access to the ballot, citing untrue claims of widespread fraud in the 2020
Today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer again threatened to change Senate rules to safeguard everyone's voting rights.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): If Republicans continue to hijack the rules of the chamber to prevent action on something as critical as protecting our
democracy, then the Senate will debate and consider changes to the rules on or before January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Because what is democracy without the right to vote, a vote that actually gets counted?
Political scientist Barbara Walter of the University of California, San Diego, examines the alarming state of affairs in her new book. It is called
"How Civil Wars Start And How to Stop Them." Also joining me from County Clare in Ireland is Fintan O'Toole. He writes about these issues. He's a
columnist for "The Irish Times."
Welcome to both of you.
So, let me first start with you, Professor.
Let me ask you, because your book is getting a lot of attention. You write an ask how civil wars start. Do you think that that is actually relevant to
what America is facing right now?
BARBARA F. WALTER, AUTHOR, "HOW CIVIL WARS START": Yes, I do.
So I have studied civil wars around the world in places like Iraq and Syria, Mozambique, Northern Ireland for the last 30 years. And one of the
things that we have learned is that civil wars tend to emerge in fairly similar ways, no matter where they break out.
Over the last five years, I have been watching what's happening here in this country. And what's become apparent is those same factors are emerging
here in our country at a surprisingly fast rate.
And that's the reason why I wrote this book.
AMANPOUR: But just dig down. And let me ask you to drill down on that, because people are going to say, hang on a second. This is the United
States of America, which went through its own bloody Civil War in the 1860s, army against army. That surely cannot happen in America of today.
What are you saying about the kind of civil war?
WALTER: Well, there's two things.
The reason why most Americans can't conceive of a second Civil War today is because they're thinking about that 19th century Civil War, where you had
two large conventional armies meeting each other on giant battlefields. The soldiers were wearing uniforms. They were dragging cannons.
And that is just not the type of 21st century civil war that we see. The 21st century civil war tends to be much more decentralized, much more like
an insurgency, where you have multiple factions, militias, paramilitary groups. Sometimes, they work together. Sometimes, they don't.
And they tend to use unconventional tactics like guerrilla warfare and terrorism. So that's what we're likely to see here if it happens.
And then my second answer is, why I think we're at risk of civil war here in the United States, for four years, I served on a task force called the
Political Instability Task Force run by the U.S. government. And our job was to come up with a predictive model of where, around the world,
countries were likely to become politically unstable and experience political violence.
We didn't look at the United States. And we created a model. We included lots of different variables that we thought would matter, like poverty and
income inequality and ethnic diversity. And it turns out that only two factors were important.
The first and most important one was whether a country was an anocracy. And that's a fancy term for partial democracy, whether a country was neither
fully democratic, nor fully autocratic, it was something in between.
The second factor we found was really important was, if countries that were in this middle zone between democracy and autocracy, if their populations
began to break down into ethnic, religious or racial political parties, which then sought power in an attempt to exclude the other.
Now, again, we're looking at countries outside the United States. I'm sitting on this task force.
WALTER: And I'm watching what's going on here in America. And it's becoming increasingly clear that we're seeing both of these factors.
AMANPOUR: And, as you said, you use the term anocracy. Others have called it illiberal democracy.
AMANPOUR: And let me turn to you, Fintan, because you have written a lot about this.
And I guess the sort of exhibit A, they call it, themselves -- the Hungarian government of Viktor Orban proudly calls itself an illiberal
But I want to ask you whether you agree. Ireland obviously had its own civil war. I want to ask you whether you agree with Professor Walter,
because you have written: "The belief that there was going to be a civil war in Ireland made everything worse. Once that idea takes hold, it has a
force of its own."
Do you -- are you concerned about a self-fulfilling prophecy?
FINTAN O'TOOLE, "THE IRISH TIMES": Yes, I am. And that's not really to contradict any of the things that Professor Walter has said, I think all of
which are extremely persuasive.
I mean, I think any friend of America who's genuine would look at things at the moment with extreme alarm. There's no question but that we have had an
attempted coup, which was beaten off narrowly this time, but that the ground is perhaps being prepared for another one.
So -- and all of the factors, the extreme partisanship, the lying, the delegitimization of the current government, I mean, all of those are
undoubtedly factors that would lead one to think about civil war.
But my concern is that you have -- you already have a narrative on the far right in America, right, which is that the civil war has started. And this
is being embraced even now by previously respectable people in the Republican Party.
And the danger here is precisely of that self-fulfilling prophecy. I lived through this period in Ireland, when there was fear of an island-wide civil
war, which never actually happened, at the start of the Troubles in Northern Ireland's at the beginning of 1970s.
And fear of civil war didn't cause people to step back and say, oh, we better be really careful here and not go there. It went in the other
direction, right, which is that, for people who are inclined towards violence -- and you have -- I'm sure you have seen this, Christiane, over
and over again in conflicts that you have covered around the world, which is, it gives the excuse to them to say, well, we better start moving first.
We better take the violent action before they get us.
And you get this kind of horrific circular logic, where people who are, in fact, aggressors can see themselves as being defenders, right? They can say
that we're just taking action now to prevent the annihilation which is coming from the other side.
So I just think we need to be very, very careful about talking about civil war. I think, for America, that really it is actually to focus on what's
happening right now, which is the issue of impunity, right?
O'TOOLE: If you really want to deal with the threats that Professor Walter has outlined so eloquently, you really have to start with the fact that
there has been an attempted coup, that there are a lot -- of course, a lot of minor people perhaps being prosecuted, but so far no real sense that
that's being called out for what it is and is being seen as a crisis, as an insurrection, which demands a response...
O'TOOLE: ... a response which actually criminalizes that behavior.
AMANPOUR: So, let me then ask, Professor Walter, because that, as you probably seen, Laurence Tribe, the Harvard University lawyer, first
Amendment law professor, has lamented the current congressional investigation that does not seem, at least to the public, to have gone yet
after the big fish, so to speak.
Yes, there have been some 700 charges filed against pretty much the foot soldiers from January 6. But tell me how that fits into the paradigm of the
second part of the title of your book, the idea of impunity and how you say -- and how to stop civil wars?
WALTER: Yes, so one of the things that we know is that the average citizen doesn't start civil wars. It tends to be extremists.
And they can't -- they can't succeed unless they convince more moderate citizens to support them. And one of the ways that they do this is by
instilling fear, convincing them if that -- that if they don't go on the offensive, they will be harmed themselves.
And so one of the things that you see happening is they will take advantage of myths, like Antifa or even actions that Antifa has taken, and they will
exaggerate it to create the sense of fear and, in this way, get people on board.
AMANPOUR: To that point, let me just play a couple of sound bites that correspondent Donie O'Sullivan discovered in talking to Trump supporters.
In this case, it was last month and in Florida. Just take a listen to what they told him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the whole reporting of it is a giant hoax.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are very peaceful people. So it was a total setup. To me, it was the FBI had set it up. I don't believe that they were Trump
supporters that did that.
DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN BUSINESS POLITICS AND TECHNOLOGY REPORTER: You said the whole thing is a setup. You don't really believe that, do you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do. I do, because Trump won the election. They have proven it over and over again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, to your point that it's not ordinary people who start these insurrections, they have to be led there...
AMANPOUR: ... let me play this from the FOX News' highly rated host, in terms of viewers, Tucker Carlson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Right, so that's what he says. That's what those people parroted, that it was the FBI.
So, from both of your perspectives, American and around the world, what is to be done? I mean, Professor Walter, how deep a grip, how hard a grip has
this -- these lies taken on the American general population? You have seen the polls.
AMANPOUR: More than 80 percent believe that democracy in America is in trouble.
Yes, they have taken a deep hold. And it's very, very -- it's going to be very, very hard to disconnect that. And it's because, in part of our media
environment, we now know that a majority of Americans get most of their news via social media. And we know that social media, via their
recommendation engines, are increasingly feeding people material that confirms their existing beliefs.
Not only that, but it feeds them even more extreme views related to that. And so people truly believe, the insurrectionists on January 6 truly
believed that they were patriots, that they were saving America, that this was their duty, and they were doing the right thing.
And they believe that because all of the information they were being fed supported that and confirmed that, and no information that they were
receiving didn't do that.
And so it's totally understandable that people believe this big lie.
AMANPOUR: OK, so, Fintan, you have written that: "Arguably, the real problem for the United States is not that it can be torn apart by political
violence, but that it has learned to live with it. This is happening again. Even the attempted coup of January 6 is already for much of the political
You point to a Pew poll that shows that, as time goes by, fewer Americans think that the rioters, the insurrectionist should actually be prosecuted.
Stay with this idea of impunity and what do you think it'll take to shift people back to a state of protecting democracy, rather than diminishing it?
O'TOOLE: I think it is really important that we don't start thinking about this as something entirely new.
To understand what's going on, I think we do have to place it in historical context. And the historical context is that violence and insurrectionary
violence and lawlessness and murder have been political weapons, particularly for the American right, for a very, very long time.
And those weapons, the use of those weapons has been justified simply by the fact that there's a narrative that America is fundamentally a white
society, and that those who were not part of it or threaten it are legitimate targets then for violence, because they are the ones who are
threatening American democracy.
And I think this is the critical thing that we have got to take from Professor Walter's work as well. I think she's making an absolutely
critical point, which is, the three of us are talking about the threat to democracy, but the narrative that's out there on the right is, no, no,
we're the defenders of democracy.
O'TOOLE: And what you really have to then confront is, what do they understand by democracy?
What they understand why democracy is a white supremacist democracy. It's our democracy. It's being taken from us.
That's why you delegitimize elections. That's why you delegitimize an elected president, because if it's -- if the democracy produces a result
which does not shore up our identity, then it's not democracy.
And you have to take that on, first of all, by calling it out from the top. And President Biden is the one who has to start doing this. He is, I
suppose, genetically inclined politically towards consensus, towards hands across the aisle, towards talking about reasonable people on both sides.
He has to start calling out the fact that half of the American political system no longer accepts the legitimacy of democracy. And if he doesn't do
that, if he still continues to try to talk as if you're in a situation whereby bipartisan political consensus is possible, then I think the
chances of changing the story, of changing the story into one of the defense of the American republic are actually quite slim.
And that's pretty alarming.
AMANPOUR: It is pretty alarming.
President Biden has made protecting democracy vs. autocracy the hallmark of his administration. He said it in his inauguration speech, and he has said
And talking about consensus, Professor Walter, you know that, on this commission investigating January 6, there are only two Republicans, the
only ones who would agree to take part. One of them is Representative Adam Kinzinger. And he, as you know, will not be running for reelection. So
maybe he did this to be able to speak truth to his own side.
This is what he what he said about January 6:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Because what really matters to me is, I want to hold the people guilty accountable, but I want to make sure this never
Otherwise, January 6 will have been, yes, a failed trial run, but, sometimes, a failed trial run is the best practice to get one that
succeeds, a coup that would succeed in toppling our government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So it's really tough. Even he's saying it. But he's a very rare Republican to say it.
You say the way to stop this process is to double down on good governance. Can you just give us an idea of what you mean?
WALTER: Well, I actually think the first thing that we should do, which is relatively easy, is just help Americans realize what a dangerous path that
we're going down.
I think people think about the decline in democracy as not particularly threatening. So, we get a little less democratic, but we are very far from
becoming an Iran or a North Korea, and so people are somewhat complacent about it.
So I think the first thing is to have Americans realize that it's this middle ground, this partial democracy that is really the danger zone, and
that we need to turn this boat around before we too suffer the consequences.
And, of course, then, the countries that escape this trap, the trap that leads them towards more violence, are the ones who double down on
democracy. And what does that mean? Probably the biggest thing that we can do is to enhance the checks and balances on the executive branch.
Over the last few decades, America's president has become increasingly more powerful relative to the other branches. The legislature used to be the
main check on presidential power. And that got thrown out the window, especially during the Trump administration.
Arthur Schlesinger sort of termed this type of presidency the imperial presidency. So, enhancing checks and balances, getting partisan politics
out of elections. It's becoming increasingly easy for parties to attempt to manipulate the outcome of elections. That should not be allowed.
And then, of course, voter suppression. We have taken a step back here in this country. And we now see at the state level an increase in voter I.D.
laws, purging of voter rolls, making it more difficult for individuals to vote. And this is deeply undemocratic.
And so there's a whole series of things that we could do to eliminate these undemocratic features, shore up our democracy, and ensure that we are
healthy. Full liberal democracies don't experience civil war.
AMANPOUR: Well, this is the struggle of our time, isn't it?
Thank you so much, Professor Barbara Walter and Fintan O'Toole. Thanks for joining us.
And facing up to the past is often difficult, but it's important, as we have been talking about, and that's proven on a more personal level in the
critically acclaimed series "Finding Your Roots."
Host and executive producer Henry Louis Gates Jr. walks some notable names through their family histories, revealing surprising truths and appending
previously held beliefs.
The eighth season premieres tonight on PBS. And here's a clip from the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GATES: During the pandemic, more people reached out to us asking to be in the series.
I didn't expect that.
TERRY CREWS, ACTOR: Wow, this is deep, man.
JOHN LEGUIZAMO, ACTOR: Yes, beautiful.
GATES: People wanted to know about their family's past.
MARIO LOPEZ, ACTOR: Really?
MELISSA VILLASENOR, ACTRESS: This is making me emotional.
TONY DANZA, ACTOR: There's an effect on you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My God.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just in awe.
GATES: They wanted these untold stories told now.
LEE DANIELS, DIRECTOR: Not only is it a history lesson, but it's personal. It's powerful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And Henry Louis Gates joins me now from Los Angeles.
Welcome back to the program.
And, look, your series is almost a perfect paradigm for talking about what we have just been talking about, which I know you have been listening to a
little bit of it.
You found in your series so many people discovering what unites them, what connects them, as they discover their DNA and all these surprises.
Do you still see the possibility of an America that can reconnect, rather than spin like a centrifuge out to its divisions, where it is right now?
GATES: Oh, absolutely.
I'm an eternal optimist. I fundamentally believe in the principles upon which this country was founded. I think the people, Christiane, are scared.
They're scared because of scarcity. They're scared. Look, we have a rampant virus that we can't see, but which is afflicting so many of us, which has
led to so many deaths.
The pie, which we once thought in the '60s was infinitely expanding, is shrinking dramatically. And in times like that, people are terrified. And
there are two kinds of leaders, those who assuage fears and those who exacerbate fears.
And that's the tension that your guests just previously on your show were speaking to.
AMANPOUR: And now going straight to your series, the first episode of the new series is entitled "Hidden in the Genes."
And you you're looking at racism. You have a lot of African-American guests, and you're looking at what that has meant just to knowing
themselves and knowing their own stories. What have you learned? And given we're talking about, I mean, things like suppressing voter rights,
particularly of African-Americans, all these years after civil rights legislation, is just wild.
GATES: Well, the -- let's go back to the original instance of voter suppression, just so your audience, people listening can understand how
devastatingly effective that can be.
Black men in the former Confederacy got the right to vote in the summer of 1867. I call that the first freedom summer. Remember, 90 percent of all
black people lived in the South until 1910. Because of the Reconstruction Act, black man in the former Confederacy got the right to vote even before
the 15th Amendment was ratified.
And guess what? In the summer of 1867, they actually registered to vote. Many of them, of course, because of slavery -- it was illegal to teach an
enslaved man or woman to read and write. They registered; 80 percent of the eligible black men in the summer of 1867 registered to vote.
And, in 1868, they voted. Ulysses S. Grant won the presidency overwhelmingly in the Electoral College. But he only won the popular vote
by just over 300,000 votes; 500,000 black men voted for Ulysses S. Grant. So the cat was out of the bag. Real power was vested in the ballot, and
these formerly enslaved people embraced it.
And that had to be taken away. Why? Because South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana were majority black states, Christiane. And Florida, Alabama,
Georgia were almost majority black states. That was the real seat of black power.
And so systematically, starting in 1890 with what was called the Mississippi Plan, the former -- 10 of the 11 former Confederate states had
state constitutional conventions. Without mentioning the word black, Negro or race, they disenfranchised those black men.
You want to know how dramatic it was, how dramatically effective? In 1898, 130,000 black men could -- were registered to vote in the state of
Louisiana, one of those majority black states. By 1901, that number had been reduced precisely to 1,342.
GATES: That's why John Lewis was beaten over the head on Pettus Bridge in March of 1965. It was to get back the vote.
And now the vote is -- the right to vote for black people is under siege once again.
AMANPOUR: Yes, 19 states have already passed new laws, and others are busy doing the same thing, especially in swing states.
But, interestingly -- and this goes to your series -- it's also about knowing your history. And you point out in the series, through your
interviews with so many of -- certainly in the first episode, that because of racism and because of the history that you have laid out, they didn't
I want to play a sound bite of you talking to Lee Daniels, filmmaker Lee Daniels, who did "Precious." And he's explaining and just amazed by what
you're telling him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: It explains why he would never give me information about my grandfather and, though my grandfather was really loving, why my
grandfather would never give me information about his father.
DANIELS: You know?
GATES: Yes, it does explain it.
DANIELS: And it's just passed down from generation to generation, from one black man to the next black man to the next black man.
GATES: These silences, yes.
DANIELS: Well, the silence stops with me, which is a good thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that's defiance: "The silence stops with me."
But what has the silence done?
GATES: Oh, I think that our -- I think the fundamental premise of "Finding Your Roots" is that our ancestors are in a kind of suspended animation,
genealogical purgatory, I call it, and they're waiting to be discovered.
And when our fabulous research team discovers them through the paper trail, genealogy, and, under CeCe Moore's leadership, genetic genealogy through
DNA, we open the vaults where they have been suspended, and they tell us their story.
And it turns out that, mysteriously, Christiane, those stories have osmotically come down through our family trees and shaped the persons that
we have become. It's an act of expiation. It's an act of confession, which provides so much relief that so many people burst into tears.
But they're stories of tragedy, but also great stories of triumph and liberation.
Let's take Lee Daniels. There always was a free black community, maybe 10 to 12 percent. Overwhelmingly, our people were enslaved until the Civil
War. But Lee, we traced back on Lee's maternal line, his mother's mother's line, and we found his third-great-grandparents, whose names happen to be
Peter Collins (ph) and Marianne Longfellow (ph), I love that, and they're listed in the 1850 census for Philadelphia.
If you were listed by name in the census, that means you were free. Not only that. We found another generation of his family, his maternal fourth-
great-grandparents, John Longfellow (ph) and Clarissa Tribbett (ph), who were free -- also free people of color born in Delaware. Then they moved to
Philadelphia around 1800.
So you want to know why Lee Daniels is the genius he is? He comes -- as my mother used to say, he comes from people. He comes from a long line of
African-Americans in that rare small community who knew and tasted freedom and could enjoy the perquisites of freedom, insofar as the law allowed.
But he didn't know that story. He didn't know why he was so special. He didn't know the silences on one side of his family, the traumas, the
tragedies that we unearthed. But also, he didn't know the glorious part of his family tree.
The same thing with Rebecca Hall. Rebeca Hall, of course, Sir Peter Hall's daughter. So, you think that her noble line would be on her father's side,
her mother's is a famous opera singer from Detroit. Well, listen to this. Rebecca grew -- one of my favorite stories in eight seasons, Rebecca grew
up hearing rumors that her paternal grandfather, Norman Ewing, was part native American, part African-American maybe, passing for white. She didn't
So, we got into it. She asked us to resolve this mystery. He married a native American woman in 1916. And then, following her death, he began
touring the United States playing music and lecturing on native American themes.
In 1926, Norman described himself as a hereditary of the Dakota Sioux nation and said that he was born on a reservation in Montana. And in this
1939 Social Security application, Norman claims to have been a white man born in Falls Church, Virginia. Now, all of this can't be true, right?
So, we found the name of his parents, John (ph), Harriet Ewing (ph). We traced them in the 1910 federal census, and it turns out they're black.
Norman and his parents and siblings were living in Washington, D.C. They were enumerated as beaulatos (ph) or, you know, black people. And it turns
out that Norman's father, Rebecca's great grandfather, John Ewin, was a major presence in African-American history. He was what we used to call a
He was born in slavery in Tennessee. In 1872, he moves from Washington, he goes to predatory school at Howard University and he ends up as an educator
in 1883. They have this amazing celebration, tribute to Frederick Douglass and they pick John to give the toast to Frederick Douglass. That's how
prominent he was.
We got a copy of the toast. I gave it to Rebecca. She read it on camera. This man toasted Frederick Douglass as a banquet. And when he dies, his son
passes for, A, native American or B, for white.
GATES JR.: It's astonishing. And then, it turns out -- just one more beat to this story. It turns out, not only is she descendant from a prominent
black figure during the 19th century, but if we go back to the American Revolution, her fourth-grade grandfather, who had the curious name Abozabil
Norman (ph), actually was free and fought in the American Revolution. Fought at the patriot victory of Cowpens, South Carolina. And after the
war, the United States government gave him a land grant in Ohio. Her true nobility was on her African-American side
GATES JR.: And with all due respect to Sir Peter, her aristocracy on this side of the Atlantic.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know what, I'm smiling. I'm desperate to jump in because we also interviewed her. Obviously, she's known as an actress but
just directed "Passing" which takes these very themes of passing, you know, for white. And this is what she told us about, you know, the process of
discovery clearly through you of her actual roots. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REBECCA HALL, ACTRESS AND DIRECTOR: I've -- I'm covered that there's an awful lot to be proud of that was erased because that is necessarily what
happens with any family that has a history of crossing, is a family crowds down and protects the wishes of the parent or the grandparent or whoever it
is that passes, and so much narrative, so much of your own heritage gets disappeared.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, I guess I want to ask you of the -- obviously, the people you were talking to described you, their pride and their knowledge and how,
you know, they've seen stuff that they had no idea about because it wasn't talked about, because it was hidden, because of racism and all the other
stuff. What happens, do you think, as a historian when a huge population suddenly realizes that they have so much nobility, so much it be proud
about, so much to be empowered with?
GATES JR.: Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud. Look at what happened in the '60s. I, as you know, am a professor at Harvard of African-American
Studies. That field didn't even exist until 1968 and 1969 in the American Academy. Where did it come from? Afro QWOP (ph), (INAUDIBLE) clad, black
students largely and historically white colleges and universities demanded that their history be incorporated in a liberal arts education in the
When people discover their identity when they get a sense of it, it emboldens them, it gives them proud. Part of which didn't say, you can't
know where you're going to until you know where you've been from. And that's been reiterated in the black traditions in 10,000 of ways and it's
so true. But you are standing on a foundation of your ancestors
And, look, you receive DNA from your ancestors back six generations at least. So, let's say 30 years, four generations. That's 180 years. You
literally have received DNA from all of your ancestors back those six generations. You are a walking family tree in your genome, you just don't
know it. So, the more self-knowledge you have about the people from whom you descend, the more powerfully you can stand. The more self-respect you
can stand. The more dignity you could possess.
You know, when I got the idea for this series in the first decade -- back in the year 2003, I thought only African-Americans didn't know about their
ancestry because the means of knowing had been kept away from us. Frederick Douglass famously said family tree is -- genealogical trees don't grow in
the soil of slavery. Well, guess what? I have never. I've done hundreds of people now in the eight seasons of "Finding Your Roots." And in the -- you
know, this is our third iteration of what's called African-American lives for two seasons in phases of America.
GATES JR.: I have never had a guest who knew anything more about their ancestors than their grandparents at most. Somehow, even when they have
distinguished ancestors from their revolutionary war or conquistadors or whatever, all of these memories get obliterated. Our job is to restore
them, which is why they come to us.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Indeed.
GATES JR.: They want to know their family tree.
AMANPOUR: And the first episode premieres tonight on PBS. It's really a great conversation, especially for now when basic rights are under attack
Henry Louis Gates, thank you so much indeed so much for joining us.
Now, getting to the Omicron variant, which is surging in almost all 50 states and the CDC has come under fire for shortening the isolation period
from 10 to five days. That's for those who've tested positive for corona virus but don't actually show any symptoms.
The Atlantic science editor and writer, Ed Yong, tells Walter Isaacson that this could have a devastating impact on U.S. health care. Their
conversation though took place before updated CDC guidance, which is expected imminently.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And, Ed Yong, welcome to the show.
ED YONG, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Hi. Thanks for having me again.
ISAACSON: What did you make of the CDC's recommendation that we shorten the quarantine to five days?
YONG: I certainly think that shortening the quarantine without any kind of testing out procedure is just nonsense. Like, that doesn't seem to have any
solid public health rationale to me and that seems to be a push to -- you know, like -- they are under a lot of pressure and that there are a lot of
reasons why someone would make a decision like this. But from a public health standpoint, it doesn't make sense. I mean, adding a testing
component at the end of it is just a no brainer.
Now, the only reason to not do that is that because of this -- I mean, I think this is one of the administration's key failures is that the testing
of the structure is still abysmal. It is still very difficult to contest and especially now that we're in the middle of another surge and rapid
tests, which could have been readily and mass deployed across the country have not been. And that is a problem.
Like, how you -- you know, do you make a recommendation for people to isolate until they can test negative if there are no tests available? I
understand the bind there, but I think you actually -- if that is part of the rationale for making that decision, you have to be honest with people.
I also think that a lot of this has been incredibly (INAUDIBLE) with the idea -- you know, the actually -- the rule is that if you -- you know, if
you leave quarantine after five days -- so, you leave isolation after five days, you have to wear a mask for five days. OK. Fine. But let's be real
about human behavior and what that actually signals to people. Like, you say, you know, you can go out and about after five days. You're basically
telling people that they're in the clear.
Again, like this is, I think, the basic element of public health by trying to understand how your messaging is going to land with people and to, you
know, be very clear about that, that it's odd to see the CDC do making these kinds of mistakes.
ISAACSON: Overall, how do you think the CDC has been doing?
YONG: I am very disappointed with its performance over the last year. I think that a lot of people, public health folks, you pandemic journalists
were excited about the prospect of having a newer administration that claims to be science-led, a new, you know, leadership at this public health
agency that had always been the gold standard but have been really taking a battering in terms of its reputation and its credibility. And I think it
has made a number of bad decisions, beginning with the decision to lift the indoor masking restrictions for vaccinated people in the middle of last
A decision that many of the public health folks I spoke to, you know, argued quite rightly, I think, privileged the most privileged people, the
people with resources to protect themselves, the people who had already have the easiest and earlies access to vaccines rather than the most
vulnerable groups whom a public health agency, the leading public health agency should be laser focused on that at all times.
ISAACSON: What data is it that you feel is not being collected well enough?
YONG: I mean, you can take your pick. We're sort of in an informational vacuum here. Like test -- just the -- OK. Some basic stuff. Let's think
about the numbers of infections that are out there. We have undercounted throughout the pandemic. We're likely undercounting now. That seems a bit
ridiculous given how sharply ascending the epidemiological curves are and yet, I'm pretty sure that is only a fraction of the total number of cases
that are out there.
The same goes for things like deaths. No one is counting long COVIDs. It's not like there is even a number for me to point out and say it's an
underestimate. And here's the thing that I really want to talk about today. What we do not have is a clear indicator of the health or poor health of
the health care system. Everyone looks at hospitalization numbers, whether they're going up or down, how high they are, that is inadequate because
those numbers say nothing about the -- so, those numbers tell you about the demand on the health care system kind of. They're only a partial
They tell you nothing about the supply side. They tell you nothing about how many health care workers are off sick right now. How many have quit
over the course of the pandemic. How many are demoralized and burned out and exhausted. They don't tell you anything about how few beds there
actually are because there aren't enough staff to care for all the patients that you can see to be in those beds.
ISAACSON: This is something you're reporting on right now. Tell us what you're finding.
YONG: Yes. It's frankly not good. Health care -- what we cannot do is treat the health care system as something that could conceivably be
overwhelmed in the future if there are enough hospitalizations. What we need to understand is that the health care system is overwhelmed right now
and has been for some time. They have been pummeled by surge after surge for the last two years.
And in between surges, when hospitalizations and cases are down and everyone else is breathing a sigh of relief, health care workers are then
playing catch-up, they're dealing with all the surgeries and procedures that were postponed because of COVID. So, you -- like, if you want to think
about pressure on the health care system, it was a sharp incline in the spring of 2020 and then a plateau.
They have been facing relentless work (INAUDIBLE) and droves of them have quit their jobs, which have made it incredibly hard for those who have left
behind. We have -- you know, I regularly hear things about nurses working with no -- you know, I don't know, three or four patients in an ICU when
previously they might have -- they might really be wanting to just deal with one or two. You know, nurses doing -- dealing with like six or seven
patients. People just working conditions where it's impossible to give the kinds of -- provide the kind of care that they actually want and need to be
able to provide.
And this isn't just about COVID anymore. This is just going to affect health care in all areas of medicine. This is -- we are entering a phase
where some places are already struggling to provide adequate care for everything, full stop, let alone COVID. And other places are on the path to
that. And this is why we need to be really careful if we're talking about a milder variant, because mildness matters for the individual, if the variant
is milder, that's probably good news for us.
But the milder and more transmissible variant is extremely more transmissible variant, which is what Omicron did, is an absolute disaster
at the collective level, because the sheer number of cases is so high that even if a smaller proportion of them is severe, that is enough to
completely overwhelm a health care system that is already overwhelmed. And that is what we're seeing now and that is what we're going to see in the
next two weeks.
And that's why I take no solace from the fact that it is milder because my individual risk might be lower. But collectively as a society, we are
looking at dark times, and that is going to rebound on me as an individual if I happen to get sick with something that's not COVID.
ISAACSON: So, tell me about that. What happens to the non-COVID patients? How does this affect them?
YONG: I think you can expect treatment to be delayed. We are already seeing stories of people waiting for hours to get emergency care for things
that are actually urgent. You -- if it gets really bad, people might just die before they get care for things like heart attacks, for things like
strokes, for things like car accidents.
This almost sounds unbelievable. Like, it sounds like such a difficult reality to pass that I keep on asking health care workers I talk to, like,
is that real? Like, is that really what you're telling me? And honestly, the best I've heard is some people saying that, we're still making it work,
we're finding ways to see people. It takes a lot of time but we are trying to make it work. I don't know what's going to happen in the next month if
these case rises still go up to the extent that we're seeing.
It's not just the number of COVID patients in hospitals, right? It's the fact that health care workers much more so in this surge than the previous
surge of getting sick themselves because Omicron can cause breakthrough infections in the vaccinated and especially the vaccinated who aren't
boosted. That takes health care workers out of the pool of possible people who can provide care, and that is happening now across the country at far
greater levels than we've seen before.
And that means there's fewer people around to care for this growing number of patients. There's also a higher number of non-COVID patients. There's
people who deferred surgeries, (INAUDIBLE) past surgeries and can't defer anymore. You know, there's just an enormous pressure on our health care
system at a time when it has never been -- like, it is weaker now than it has ever been in the past two years of this pandemic because so many people
have left, because the ones who are staying now are going to leave during this surge or they're going to leave after this surge.
The system is weakening by the week and I think most people don't really understand that that's happening or the consequences of that for all of us.
ISAACSON: Is there a health care worker that stands out from your reporting?
YONG: You know, I have many of them that I am deeply fond of, but I don't want to single any person out. Like, I think that the whole problem with
this pandemic is that we've been too focused on individuals. And the problem is that systems, right, the pandemic is a collective problem. It
requires us to take collective responsibility. It requires our political leaders put in policies that protect the health of populations and then, it
requires us as individuals to think about our neighbors, about the entire society of which we are an inextricable part and to make decisions now just
about personal risk but the consequences of our actions onto our collective risks.
So, you know, it's the healthcare system that is struggling and its health care workers as a community that are doing their best and that are slowly
being crushed by everyone else's actions and inactions.
ISAACSON: Tell me about long COVID. What do we know about how many people have it? What can you do about it?
YONG: Frustratingly, we know very little because there is still a huge amount of dismissal of the condition and the people who have had it. I've
started working with long COVID about two years ago in the late spring of 2020 when it didn't have a name and when most people didn't even recognize
that it existed.
Of course, the people who had it knew that something was going on. They were getting months of debilitating and this are symptoms including
crushing levels of fatigue, physiological (INAUDIBLE) that got worse after even mild forms of physical activity, brain fog and other cognitive
problems, neurological problems. These was very real for them, and it is very real.
But a lot of these folks are still not treating it as such. I think now there's more acknowledgment. There's been formal acknowledgment from the
CDC, the NIH, they've got (INAUDIBLE). But still, there is a lot to discuss (ph). A lot of people with long COVID are struggle to get care for
themselves because the number of long COVID clinics that have opened are still very small in number and the number of law orders (ph) is vast. We
don't have an exact count because, again, no one is counting this because there is still this pervasive idea that it's either health or death that
are the outcomes that matter and there's not enough recognition of the long-term disability that can result from a brush with not just, of course,
this virus but other viruses too.
This is something that people with conditions like M.E. and dysautonomia have been talking about for many, many decades. But they too have been
dismissed, and that is the problem, unfortunately, that a lot of long ballers (ph) continue to face. And meanwhile, they're struggling to work,
they're struggling to get on with their normal lives. You know, a lot of them have struggled to get onto disability benefits because of the problems
we've talked about before.
The disability part of the pandemic is still under discussed and hugely important.
ISAACSON: We were clearly not prepared for this variant. What can we do to prepare for the next one?
YONG: A lot of experts and journalists like myself have been talking about the possibility of a variant like that would arise, that will either or be
more transmissible or that would evade some of our immune defenses. That was always on the cogs. I think that what was surprising about Omicron is
how different it is to past variants. I think, everyone -- a lot of people expected the next one to be a kind of variant -- a variant on Delta -- kind
of Delta plus, bells and whistles on it.
Omicron is not (INAUDIBLE). Omicron is an older version of the virus that's somehow evolved a large number of mutations on its own and ended up being
something quite different. Unless we actually take the pandemic seriously and more seriously than we have done in the last two years under two
different administrations now, we're going to see more of this.
We need to prioritize setting up the kinds of systems that will actually control the spread of COVID. And by that, I mean things that people have
been calling for for two years now. Social protections that allow people to take actions that will protect their livelihoods and their lives, things
like paid sick leave, hazard pay, universal health care, if we can swing that. That would be great. But also, system for tracking viruses.
You know, it is ludicrous that we are now in 2022 and that we still have testing shortages. It is ludicrous that hospitals still lack in some basic
equipment and medicine that supply chains have been bolstered. I -- there - - we always -- and just finally, we need to take global vaccine equity much more seriously than we have done.
The Biden administration keeps on talking about the number of doses that it's donated, but we see those doses arriving too late. We see too few of
them. We a lot of doses that are close to their expiry date and can't be used. If we don't actually commit to vaccinating the rest of the world as
quickly as possible as people have been calling for the last year, we're going to see more of these variants and we're going to see more of these
And as I say, I cannot stress enough that the problems are cumulative. It's not just what the health care system is facing right now, it's the fact
it's been facing it for two years now that's breaking it.
ISAACSON: Ed Yong, thank you so much for joining us.
YONG: Thanks for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And of course, as the W.H.O. says, until everyone's vaccinated and protected, nobody really is.
And finally, we know from the old adage what to do when life gives you lemons, but what about when it gives you snow and plenty of it? Well,
residents of Washington, D.C. knew just what to do when the season's first fall started the week out. A fierce snowball fight, of course, making the
best of a storm that dumped a record amount on to the nation's capital. Even dogs joined in what was dubbed battle of snowmicron. You figure that
one out. And so much better, of course, to have a snowball fight in front of the capital.
That's it for now. Remember, you can always catch us online. And if you ever miss our show, you can always find the latest episodes shortly after
it airs on our podcast. You can find at cnn.com/podcast and all major podcast platforms. Just search for Amanpour.
Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.