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Interview with "The Sum of Us" Author Heather McGhee; Interview with The Atlantic Contributing Writer and "Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race" Author Thomas Chatterton Williams; ; Interview With German Parliament Member Norbert Rottgen; Interview With French Ambassador to the United States Philippe Etienne. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired February 08, 2022 - 13:00   ET




Here's what's coming up.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): I do not believe that this crisis can be resolved by a few hours of discussion.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): French President Macron mediates between Ukraine and Russia, buying time for more talk, while the German chancellor meets

with President Biden.

I'm joined by the French ambassador to the United States, Philippe Etienne.


HEATHER MCGHEE, CO-CHAIR, COLOR OF CHANGE: There is the possibility of human transformation. We have got to bet on that possibility.

Conversations about America's age of identity politics, what racism really costs everyone, with the economist and author Heather McGhee.


THOMAS CHATTERTON WILLIAMS, "THE ATLANTIC": We have to find ways to just depoliticize and come together and trust each.

AMANPOUR: Culture critic Thomas Chatterton Williams on healing a divided nation.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, tries to reassure a jittery world that he has helped buy time to resolve the Ukraine crisis peacefully. At a

joint press conference with Ukraine's President Zelensky in Kyiv today, he also said that he sees concrete solutions to easing tensions with Russia.


MACRON (through translator): In the days and weeks coming up, we have to go forward on two parallel tracks, the observation of the Minsk agreements

in the Normandy format, and the second one is dialogue, a search for innovative solutions, shared novel approaches, which is aimed at ensuring

stability on our continent, and thus to ensure security as a whole.


AMANPOUR: Earlier, the French president claimed that Putin had pledged no new military escalation, but the Kremlin has refused to confirm that.

Macron has made himself a central figure in Europe's diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions between Russia and Ukraine. After that five-hour discussion

with the Russian president on Monday, he maintained there is still time to preserve peace.

But what demands did President Putin make?

Philippe Etienne, French ambassador to the United States, is joining me now from Washington.

And welcome to the program, Mr. Ambassador.

You have spent a long time advising your president, both diplomatically, when you were his adviser after his election, and now as his ambassador in


So, I want to ask you. I'm trying to figure out whether there's any daylight now between Europe, i.e., France, and the United States, because

you know that the West made very clear, certainly, the U.S., that in order to discuss the issues that President Putin wanted to discuss, there had to

be visible military de-escalation.

Yet your president has maintained somewhat the opposite. After his meetings, he says: "Safe and sustainable de-escalation requires progress on

the substantive issues."

Is there a difference of choreography now between France and the United States?

PHILIPPE ETIENNE, FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much for having me, Christiane.

No, I don't think there is a difference. On the contrary, there is a very close coordination. President Macron, before he left for Moscow and Kyiv,

actually talked two times with President Biden on the phone, immediately before he left and a couple of days ago.

And we all agree. I think we have to engage at the same time for de- escalation and also for political solutions, and which means, for us, the implementation of the Minsk agreements to solve the crisis in Donbass in

Eastern Ukraine, and to find what our president called innovative solutions to restore European security order.

AMANPOUR: Well, what exactly does that mean?

Because I was under the impression that the whole reason for the West's so far unified approach was to preserve the existing European security order

that has worked for the West since the end of World War II, and that, actually, President Putin is trying to challenge.

So, is President Macron, when he says innovative new solutions, he almost said new security order for Europe -- is he thinking of something

completely different or slightly different in this regard now?

ETIENNE: Thank you for the question. It is really important too to make clear that we hold to the principles of European security. He said it

clearly also yesterday at the press conference in Moscow.

We have a set of principles. And we must take all of those principles together, which have been accepted by every country, including Russia, of

course, under the OSCE, and during the last decades.


These principles, such as the respect of sovereignty, of security for all countries, are the basis. But, during the last years, we have seen a lot of

instruments of this security order in Europe which have been unraveled, treaties which have disappeared. And we have this situation now in Europe.

So, not only we need -- and France and Germany as mediators are doing that. And, again, all this is coordinated not only with the U.S., but also with

Germany and other allies and other European countries. We need to solve this Donbass crisis and implement the Minsk agreements, which both

President Putin and Zelensky recommitted.

But we must also look how we can in the future restore this security and the conditions of security, stability and sovereignty for all European


AMANPOUR: Mr. Ambassador, obviously, when we refer to Donbass, that's the eastern part of Ukraine...

ETIENNE: Yes. Yes.

AMANPOUR: ... that was the subject of the Russian invasion back in 2014.

Now, you know that Russia completely denies having entered Ukraine, and, therefore, even some of the so-called Minsk agreement principles they don't

even buy into, because they refuse to accept that they're actually there formally. And that's a problem. And a lot of peace treaties and

declarations have been violated by that side.

But I'm trying to figure out what would be an innovative new solution while 100,000 Russian troops are -- and more maybe -- are on the borders With

Ukraine. Where does France see an opening?

ETIENNE: Well, first, on the Minsk agreements, they have to be implemented. It is not easy for Ukraine, but the Ukrainian authorities have

taken very, very good steps recently.

And our president, when in Kyiv today, has really commended the -- not only announced new cooperation, new support for Ukraine, but also commended the

behavior or the attitude of the Ukrainian authorities.

And to implement the Minsk agreements means to advance in what we call the Normandy format, which is composed of the four countries, Russia -- Russia

is there -- Russia is there -- Ukraine, Germany and France, and then to have the implementation, complete implementation of the humanitarian

security and political aspects, and then beyond that, of course.

But this Donbass crisis is a part of the whole issue. We have more -- more broadly, we have, in Europe, and not only for Ukraine, but also for other

countries in the region -- our president mentioned Georgia, he mentioned Moldova, he mentioned Belarus, where there is this accumulation of military

forces by Russia.

We need -- and for all of European -- all of the European countries, including Russia, we need to find these new solutions, because we have --

this situation reminds us that we have not them. And we have lost a lot of instruments.

AMANPOUR: What do you make, I mean, just as a sort of a taster of how some of your president's diplomacy is being met by the Russians, even now, even

the dish is still warm, the Elysees, your palace, your presidency, put out their -- their read after the meetings, in which they said that President

Putin had agreed not to further escalate militarily at this time.

They added that they had agreed that the troops that are stationed around the Belarus-Ukraine border will be withdrawn once these so-called Zapad

exercises are over.

Sure enough, within a few minutes, the Kremlin's chief spokesman, I mean, President Putin's right-hand man, Dmitry Peskov, says: "I can't comment on

that. I do not quite understand what French colleagues were talking about."

And then he added: "I do not rule out the possibility that a newspaper made this up."

So, what is it? I mean, did Putin agree or not?


ETIENNE: Our president was asked today in Kyiv about this.

And he said what he had already said, actually, at the press conference in Moscow, that they had a discussion on Belarus with the Russian president,

because there had been articles in the press saying that Belarus would be used to deploy or to -- following certain legal changes in the Belarus

legislation, and to do certain things.

And he just said that he had been reassured in his dialogue, and that, also, I think it is clear that, many times, the Russians, on their side

have said that they have no plans for invasion.


And so we don't know what that they do finally, because, of course, there are different options. But while we have prepared this deterrence, which is

also the subject of a close coordination between Europeans and Americans and other allies, we also coordinated very closely to engage on this

dialogue on the different tracks you have mentioned, our president has mentioned, and, as you recall, which our de-escalation, implementing the

Minsk agreements, and working together on the components of security in Europe.

And, again, if you look at the publication by "El Pais" of the NATO and U.S. answers to the Russian proposals, you see this is really what we are

talking about...


ETIENNE: ... what we can consider to improve the security on the European continent.

So, this is closely coordinated.


But yet there does seem to be potentially a difference of interpretation from Europe and the United States as to what President Putin wants. And

your president gave voice to that today. He basically said: "The geopolitical objective of Russia today is clearly not Ukraine, but to

clarify the rules of cohabitation with NATO and the E.U."

And some have suggested, as you have seen in analysis, that America thinks it's preparing for an all-out invasion, while Europe doesn't think that. It

thinks it might be something else that Putin's after.

And your president mentioned the idea of so-called Finlandization of Ukraine, which essentially means neutrality of Ukraine. Is that something

that is considered right now? Is that one of the proposals?

ETIENNE: First, I will start with your last question, and then answer the first one.

He didn't -- he didn't choose the word Finlandization. Again, he was also asked about this in Kyiv. He just said -- and I was, like you maybe, before

the screen, I heard how he said this in Moscow.

He said that when the Russians criticize the open door policy of NATO, he just said that it is not anywhere only about Ukraine. It's also about other

countries, such as Finland and Sweden. This is everything. He said only this.

And then you mentioned the difference of objectives between the Europeans and the Americans and between Ukraine and more broader objectives. No, I

deny also that, because we coordinate on Ukraine, of course. And in case there would be an invasion of Ukrainian, we prepare ourselves.

We reassure also. We take reassurance measures for our Eastern neighbors in NATO, such as Romania and Poland. But, on the other side, if you read what

Russia is asking for from the very beginning, and the answers given both by NATO and by the United States, I repeat it. It's about more than Ukraine.

It's about the broader arrangements to be found to secure -- to ensure security and stability in Europe.

So you have the two elements, but they are present both in the United States, in Europe, in our policies, which are closely coordinated.

AMANPOUR: So, very finally -- and this kind of a one-word answer -- do you think the world is safer after this trip by your president to the region?

Are we a step further away from the idea of war?

ETIENNE: I think, definitely, this visit -- these two visits together to Moscow and to Kyiv were and are useful. And they will be followed, by the

way, this -- tonight by the stop by President Macron in Berlin to meet with the German chancellor, who was in Washington yesterday, and with the Polish


So, you see this big effort of coordination, of unity in the search of political and diplomatic solutions.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Philippe Etienne, thank you very much for joining us.

So, now we do go to Berlin, because we want to ask whether all of Europe is resolved as the ambassador said and, of course, as the United States.

The new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, did hold a pivotal meeting with the U.S. president, Joe Biden. But despite pledges of unity, questions remain

on a key energy pipeline from Russia and the severity of any sanctions should Putin invade Ukraine.

Norbert Rottgen is on the German Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, and he used to be a minister in the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Welcome back to the program.

So, great transition. We have President Macron his way to Berlin to meet with your chancellor after his diplomacy in Moscow and in Kyiv, and after

your chancellor's visit to the United States.


Is your chancellor rock-solid, shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. and the rest of Europe on this?

NORBERT ROTTGEN, GERMAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: Yes, he definitely is absolutely rock-solid in this issue.

He has underlined the importance of unity. He has promised Germany to be an essential, integral part of a Western response if there were to be a

Russian aggression against Ukraine. So, he is absolutely solid, reliable. And it was good to make this clear again on his trip in Washington.

AMANPOUR: So, I want to play a little bit of an interview that your chancellor gave to CNN yesterday after his meeting, and he was asked this

very same question.

So I'm going to put it in his words.


OLAF SCHOLZ, GERMAN CHANCELLOR: You can be absolutely sure that Germany will be together with all its allies, and especially the United States,

that we take the same steps. There will be not -- no differences in that situation.

What we do today is giving this very strong answer to Russia, saying, if you invade the Ukraine, this will have a very high price for you, which

will have high impacts on your economy and the chances for your development.

And we are ready to take steps that will have cost for us.


AMANPOUR: So there's a very important statement. "We are ready to take steps that will have cost for us."

Yet, under repeated questioning by the interviewer, even during the press conference, he remained vague on what apparently seems to be the all-

important issue of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia.

And he has not given a solid answer as to what President Biden said, that it would be stopped if there was an invasion.

Why is he maintaining what some call this kind of strategic ambiguity at this time?

ROTTGEN: Yes, I -- you're right with your question.

In this case, I'm not -- I'm not an adherent of strategic ambiguity. But I'm in favor of strategic clarity.

And, to be clear, the chancellor should have been clear about this issue. I think this is an absolutely essential issue. It is a controversial issue

also within the United States. And so he should not have omitted a clear statement on this.

And he shouldn't have done it, because -- even because it is absolutely clear and evident what will happen if Russia were to invade Ukraine. Then

it is absolutely clear and evident that Nord Stream 2 will not become operable within Germany. Everybody knows it.

And it should have been made explicit in the speeches and interviews of the chancellor. So, he omitted this, and it created room for speculation, and

he should not -- this was avoidable, and he should have avoided this sliver of a lack of clarity.

AMANPOUR: Let me just play, just for our audience to remember what President Biden said on this topic, standing right next to your chancellor.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, then there will be --

we -- there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.


AMANPOUR: "We will bring an end to it."

I just want to ask one more time why you think he, your chancellor, stayed vague and missed an opportunity?

It seemed much worse than that. He just didn't want to answer it. It's not like he made a mistake. He was pounded by questions on it.


No, absolutely clear he did not want to answer the question. He wanted to stay ambiguous, despite the fact that he underlined that all the steps will

be taken in unity. And everybody knows that it is unimaginable, in a case of war, to continue the process of certification of Nord Stream 2, of a

major economic project of this pipeline.

So everybody knows it in a way in abstract terms. He considered this, but he did not answer in concrete terms. And this is room for speculation. As I

mentioned, I do not know the motives.

It has always been, of course, an issue, a controversial issue in Germany. I have always opposed this project because I have always considered this a

weapon against Ukraine. It's not an economic project. We do not need more pipelines. It's not about gas.

But in the SPD, the party of the chancellor, it was always heavily supported. It was under protection of several ministers. So, within the

party, the SPD, it is -- has always been highly supported and an important element in their foreign policy.


This might be one motive. But I don't know what the motives of the chancellor are and have been. He should have updated -- it would have been

better if he had opted for clarity in this very important question of German credibility and reliability.

AMANPOUR: So, look, the -- I mean, they call it a scheduling conflict, but it doesn't seem to be coincidental that the meeting between your foreign

minister from a different party, the Green Party, and the Ukrainian president has been canceled.

And there are rumblings that Kyiv is unhappy with the level of support getting -- that it's getting from Germany. So, what -- we know what Ukraine

is thinking, because it's -- I mean, the meeting is canceled.

What do you think this ambiguity and lack of clarity by your side says to President Putin?

ROTTGEN: No, to be clear and to repeat, my general assumption and view is that everybody really knows that it is without any doubt that what

President Biden said, in case of war, there will be no Nord Stream 2, everybody knows it.

The chancellor just missed and omitted to make this explicit.

AMANPOUR: All right.

ROTTGEN: But I think there is no doubt about it.

And Ukraine certainly has no reason to complain about the lack of support, since Germany is the country number one in civil support and in billions we

have spent on Ukraine to support the economy for years now.

AMANPOUR: And I guess a final question, which is the big question, and that is that President Macron is coming back from his meetings in Moscow

and Kyiv to Berlin to meet with your chancellor.

And you have heard probably some of my conversation with the French ambassador. And you heard Macron talk about creating a new order for

security in Europe. I mean, I'm paraphrasing. That's pretty much what he said.

Do you agree with that? Isn't that just playing into Putin's hands? How do you see a new order in Europe that guarantees the order that has been the

order for the last 70-plus years?

ROTTGEN: To be honest, I'm very unhappy about these different approaches.

I can't identify a mandate of the French president, even in his role as rotating president of the European Council, to negotiate any kind of

security order. The security order in Europe is enshrined in the Final Act of Helsinki, in the Paris Accord, and it is violated and going to be

violated and already has been violated by President Putin.

And he is certainly determined to change the security order and the political order of Europe. So, we should not -- we should not allow

ourselves to speak in different languages and voices, because this contributes to weakness.

What is of the utmost importance is a unity, that we speak with one voice. And these differences in approaches and language and rhetoric is a part of

weakness we should avoid, definitely.

AMANPOUR: Norbert Rottgen, thank you so much indeed for joining us again on this.

Now, Ukrainians are bracing for the possibility of war, while keeping a cool head, as President Macron said about President Zelensky. But security

forces are training right now at Chernobyl, which is the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster.

And Melissa Bell reports from the very scene there.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Through the forests of Northern Ukraine, it appears, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, a

monument to humanity's ability to unleash uncontrollable forces.

Suddenly, the apparent calm left behind by the 1986 Soviet era accident is broken. Ukrainian forces run drills in what remains a radiation exclusion

zone free of any inhabitants. They're practicing urban combat.

Of course, this is also an information and propaganda war. Everyone waits for Russian President Vladimir Putin to decide, even as Ukraine questions

an earlier U.S. assessment of just how imminent a potential invasion is.

OLEKSIY REZNIKOV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: So, we have the same facts, but the different perception or different estimation.

BELL (on camera): The difference is on the question of intention. You don't believe they intend to invade?

REZNIKOV: I hope that, in Kremlin, they didn't make their decision still.

BELL (voice-over): But Chernobyl is only 10 miles from the border with Belarus, where Russia has been holding joint military exercises, these just

some of the 30,000 Russian combat troops that NATO has warned are on their way, welcomed with bread and salt and open arms.


(on camera): To the east of Chernobyl lies this neutral zone between Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. It is known as the Three Sisters Crossing, in

memory of a time when the three countries were all Soviet republics.

But more than 30 years old from the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus is a staunch ally of Russia, while Ukraine fears an invasion.

(voice-over): Barely visible through the freezing mist across the border in Belarus, a Soviet era monument to the sister nations.

And at the Three Sisters Cafe on the Ukrainian side, there is more nostalgia for that past than there is worry about war.

Masha (ph), a 64-year-old great-grandmother, works here to supplement her state pension worth the equivalent of just $77 a month, she says.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Will Putin go to war with civilians? He won't do that. I have brothers and sisters living in Russia,

in Belarus. I would dissolve the Parliament in Kyiv, kick them out of Parliament, every last one of them.

They should give the people proper pensions, so that people won't be beggars.

BELL: The nearby village of St. Kifka (ph) is only a three-hour drive from Kyiv, but feels much further.

This man won't tell us his name, for fear of being labeled a separatist. He too misses the unity of the past and certainly doesn't appreciate visit to

Kyiv from the likes of the British prime minister.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Boris the uncombed comes here only whipping the tensions up. Only a fool would start a war.

BELL: Nobody will come out a winner, he says, nobody.


AMANPOUR: Melissa Bell reporting there.

In the United States, Black History Month celebrations continue, a time to honor their critical role in the country's history. But it comes at a

particularly divisive time on everything from poverty to voting rights.

And my next guest argues that racist structures cost every single American.

Heather McGhee, author of "The Sum of Us," joins me now.

Welcome back to the program, Heather McGhee.

MCGHEE: Glad to be with you.

AMANPOUR: So, look, I just want to go back to what you told us almost practically this time last year and ask you whether you still hold by it.

You said: "It became clearer and clearer to me that what was driving inequality and the American dysfunction is racism in our politics and our


Now, despite the fact that President Biden has managed to pass some trillions in infrastructure and other such things, do you think that

sentence that you gave us last year is as true, as true, as it was back then?

MCGHEE: It is as true, perhaps even more so.

I finished writing "The Sum of Us" before January 6, right, before a mob went to try to overturn an election and commit violence and end up with a

lot of people losing their lives, bringing the Confederate Flag through the Capitol.

And University of Chicago research has shown that the animating core idea that the January 6 rioters and insurrectionists held was exactly the zero

sum racial world view that I named in the book, this fear that the presence of more people of color was going to mean fewer rights for white people.

I write about that in the new afterword that I put in the paperback that's out today. It's really about the racial zero sum. That's just one of the

many examples that we're seeing, the cost of racism to our democracy in America.

AMANPOUR: So I'm going to drill a little bit more on that in a sec.

But what I want to ask you is if you can sort of judge how, in immediate bread-and-butter terms, in rescue terms, for instance, the American Rescue

Plan has done for people. Obviously, the Build Back Better plan is stuck.

But what are the benefits that you have seen over the last several months, over the last year, since the original one was passed?

MCGHEE: That's right.

So I really see the whole agenda. The opening line of "The Sum of Us" is, have you ever wondered why it seems we can't have nice things in America?

And by nice things, I mean like truly universal health care, child care, paid family leave, well-funded infrastructure in a country whose

infrastructure used to be the envy of the world.

I wrote that and finished the book in November 2020. In January, President Biden came to office promising basically that list of nice things. And he

wouldn't have been in office if it weren't for a multiracial coalition of the multiracial majority of Americans rejecting the politics of divide and



The Democrats wouldn't have had the majority they had to be able to pass so many of those things if it weren't for the miraculous January 5th, right,

which was a multiracial coalition in Georgia, putting a black man and a Jewish-American into the Senate from the State of Georgia.

And so, the story of "The Sum of Us" is really a story of two paths, right? Of a path that continues on with the legacy of zero-sum racism and white

supremacy, of racism distorting our collective responses to common problems or the story of the shining city on the hill, of a country of ancestral

strangers with ties to every community on the globe figuring out how to fight for each other instead of against each other. And we've seen both of

those two sorts of warring impulses in the past year.

AMANPOUR: So, both yourself and, in fact, the president has said that, you know, the systemic racism that you described costs every American no matter

whether they be black, white or whatever, it costs every American. How so?

MCGHEE: Well, this is something that was really surprising that the president, as he's begun to talk about race in his presidency, has named

the zero-sum, has said that ultimately the agenda that brought him into office, the incredible outpouring of support on Black Lives Matter in 2020,

all of that sort of mandate around racial justice is not a zero-sum. It's not just for black folks. Because when Black Lives Matter, that means that

the horizon and possibility for a good life for everyone matters.

Think about the criminal justice system in policing. We created the system in the U.S. really out of a set of racist politics, the fear of the

criminalized African-American, that goes way back to slavery. And it was racist politics that helped to really build up the drum beat for a mass

incarceration system that means one out of every three Americans can expect to be arrested, which means that communities across the country are being


Yes, disproportionately, black and brown and indigenous folks, but white Americans are the majority of the people behind bars. When we fund police

instead of funding the things that really keep our communities safe, that is a fear-based -- a racial fear-based political imperative in the United

States, and it ends up costing everyone.

There are big macro numbers about the black, white economic divide costing the U.S. GDP $16 trillion over the last 20 years according to Citi Group. I

also talk about how the way in which we fund our school systems so unequally, means our young people are still in segregated schools, which

means that they're still not having the best educational system, even for white children. We understand that diversity actually has educational

benefits for all.

So, across the board and then, of course, it comes back to the economy for me. This is the thing we care the most about, the idea that we have not

been able to keep the American dream within sight for so many workers because we've been unwilling to invest, and frankly, a lot of the kinds of

guarantees and supports that most of our peer industrialized nations have long ago accepted but they don't have to deal with these zero-sum politics

that create a real anti-white government sentiment among white Americans.

AMANPOUR: OK. So, you've just said the two important -- well, amongst much, the important stuff you said, zero-sum politics, you know, and the

anti-government politics, which is unusual, you know, outside of America, certainly in the democratic world. So, what's I think interesting because

you write that the American Rescue Plan, which did get passed and they -- obviously, there's the infrastructure bill as well, that that rescue plan

was popular with nearly 80 percent of voters including 59 percent of Republicans.

And then, you say as of this writing, the poverty rates in the United States is the lowest it's been since we started keeping track. Generous

public benefits passed during the pandemic alleviated economic suffering across the board and even more precipitously amongst children, rural

Americans and black folks.

So, is -- it's still hard for me to compute why, I guess, this zero-sum economics and politics resonates. Surely people are accountable like

Congress people and senators to their voters. And if their voters believe in this stuff, support it and can see whether they're Republican or

Democrat, that they are -- you know, poverty is being alleviated to an extent, what's not to like about it for the Republican Party that keeps

blocking it?


MCGHEE: Yes. It's a really good question. I mean, fundamentally the core question is, who benefits from the zero-sum lie. And when you look at how

the build back better agenda, the American Rescue Plan, all of the things that would make life more bearable for most Americans are popular with the

majority of Americans. They're usually about 20 percentage points more popular with Americans of color than they are with white Americans.

There's still a different sort of way of seeing the world oftentimes between different racial communities in America. There's a lot of sort of

stereotypes about people cheating government benefits, about the idea government is for those people, the sort of undeserving core that

suppresses white support for things like Universal Health Care, for example. The Affordable Care Act is not popular with the majority of white

Americans even though they're the largest, you know, portion of the uninsured in America.

And yet, this core question of, you know, what's not to like, why are Republicans resisting something that seems like, you know, a chicken in

every pot as we used to say, because they can deploy the zero-sum instead, right? They're not talking about, you know, pre-K and universal child care

and paid family leave, things that get majority support. They're talking about making sure that parents can ban books in libraries that talk about

racism and sexism. They are waging a culture war. They are talking about the sort of boogeyman of critical race theory.

And then, you have in the middle some sort of moderate Democrats who have some sort of knee jerk anti-government response. They say, well, we

probably can't afford it even though, you know, all the math shows that this would be an economic boom and help us shrink our deficit by actually

generating more GDP and more economic revenue on the back end.

So, you have this combination on the one hand the right really using -- just going straight toward cultural war stuff, around the big lie, around

the myth of voter fraught, around critical race theory in schools. And then, you know, on the other side you have "moderate Democrats" who are

very much funded disproportionately by corporations that want to keep their taxes low, that don't want to see greenhouse gas regulations, and they're

saying, well, we just shouldn't have government and folks lives as much for as the rest of the Democratic Party wants it to be.

AMANPOUR: And then you've got inflation, which, again, this administration is being blamed for by its critics and opponents, but it is actually

hurting people in their pockets. At the same time, the wages are increasing by almost the same percentage, not quite. Where does that leave people,

ordinary people, supermarket prices, gas prices, all the rest of it and heading into an election?

MCGHEE: You know, I'm so glad you raised this because this is one of the issues that's really poorly understood and poorly covered in the media.

It's almost like inflation, the way we talk about it is if it's sort of this natural thing that happens in the world when, you know, the other

piece of the story is that corporate profits in the United States are at a record high, right? Somebody is making the decision to raise prices.

And what they're doing is saying that, you know, there may be some supply chain issues, so we don't as much supply, but the demand is up. And

therefore, we can go ahead and raise prices and people will still buy, right? Corporations are making a lot of money. We shouldn't act like this

is just sort of a natural phenomenon that is happening without people benefitting at the very top.

And the thing is the build back better agenda the Biden administration has put forward would actually decrease inflationary pressures on the things

that matter most, right? Gallon of milk, $3. Yes, but housing, health care, child care, that's $30,000, $15,000, right? And so, we really have to look

at the whole picture.

And so, this wave that, I think, in the United States the Republicans have really been trying to make a sort of political cudgel out of inflation when

we're talking about, you know, real prices, consumer prices that matter, yes, but are actually really gulfed by the consumer prices the big-ticket

items that the Biden administration has an agenda for and the Republicans are not willing to go along.

AMANPOUR: Yes. It's really fascinating and interesting stuff. Thank you so much for your expert perspective there, Heather McGhee.

And we'll continue our conversation about race and the way forward now through, guess what, Plato's eyes because Thomas Chatterton Williams

examines the complex relationship between the classics and identity politics. And he is speaking to Walter Isaacson about racism, education and

cancel culture.


WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Thomas Chatterton Williams, welcome back to the show.


ISAACSON: You know, you've been very critical. You signed the letter that was in Harper's Magazine, critical about cancel culture, what's sometimes

called wokeness or overusing critical race theory that teach kids in high school. And yet, recently, you signed something and wrote something against

conservative state legislatures that are trying to ban critical race theory. Explain to me why you changed on that.


WILLIAMS: Well, I think it's not a change really at all. I think it's just sticking with a fundamental principal, which is that, you know, for better

act of any type of freedom is the freedom of expression, the freedom to think freely, to explore ideas and to discuss ideas that are controversial

and that are potentially even wrong.

And the way to defeat wrong ideas is through persuasion and through superior ideas and clearer thinking. But it's not through any kind of

authoritarianism or bans or undemocratic means of forcing people to think the same. So, you know, the Harper's Letter was a defensive freedom of

expression. And the op-ed that Jason Stanley of Yale, Kmele Foster and David French and I wrote in "The New York Times" was arguing that, you

know, banning ideas that we think are unpersuasive is a really bad way of going about defending so-called liberal principles.

ISAACSON: But don't you think that parents, you know, when they're faced with their kids coming home, saying, here's what they're teaching me at

school, and at some point. they have a right to say, wait, wait, that's going too far?

WILLIAMS: Yes. I absolutely think they have a right to say that and I think that's where persuasion comes in and that's where discussion come in.

But, you know, one of the problems with this type of bans is that it's very difficult to pinpoint what is this thing that's being banned and what is

actually outside of that. And so, you have this huge kind of mistakes being made where a letter from a Birmingham jail by Martin Luther King is being

banned because its potential to make white students uncomfortable or, you know, texts that are key to understanding, you know, the racial history of

the United States of America, which, frankly, is an uncomfortable history are being banned. And we're in danger of sugarcoating, I think,

conversations that need to be a little bit difficult to digest.

ISAACSON: One of the common themes of these laws is that they say that we shouldn't have things that make kids feel uncomfortable about their race.

Is there an advantage to having kids feel slightly guilty about their race?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I probably disagree with, at least, one of my co-authors on that. I think that we have a huge mistake in this country

about how we go about indoctrinating children and each other into believing in these abstract categories of racial classification to begin with.

So, I think that we're in the process of educating children into thinking of themselves as white, thinking of themselves as black. And then, there

are a lot of problems that come out of this that are all -- you know, I think of a more fundamental solution to the problem is actually find ways

to transcend the mistake of race in the first place.

ISAACSON: Do you think that the Democratic Party has been hurt by its association with what some call wokeness or is that a whole bunch of


WILLIAMS: No, I -- it's an interesting question because there is gibberish, and there is something there. The Democratic Party has had a

difficult time standing up to, I think, its most -- its loudest and its most visible niche fringe. So, the kind of voices that dominate social

media, the voices that dominate Twitter and that therefore, catch the attention of a lot of the media class are not actually representative of

even most of the minority constituents of the Democratic Party.

And so, there's a kind of mistaken belief that more of the Democratic base is woker than it actually is. So, I think that actually has hurt

politically Democrats, that they have veered too far to a kind of progressive world view that is not shared by not even most of the country

but not most of their own voters.

ISAACSON: You come from a mixed-race background. How does that help inform your thinking about not categorizing people by race?


WILLIAMS: Well, my personal experience has made my belief in racial classification fall apart. Having children who I know are descended from

Africa and are descended from Europe and that the world perceives as white but I know could have been enslaved in another time in America, I mean, it

makes these walls of identity fall down around me.

I see individuals. I see conflicts. Human beings with mixed up histories. And I know that many other people share this kind of interconnectedness

that we seem to deny when we fall back on what I would call, you know, the myth of race, the veil of race that falls between us when I see you and I

think I see something and I deny the complexity of the individual underneath the story that I tell myself about you.

And I don't mean to deny racism or the history of oppression that exists in this country, but I mean to say that to transcend that kind of racism,

we're going to, at some point, have to transcend racial thinking. And this is what kind of the anti-CRT bans and the kinds of anti-racism that focused

on racial difference both neglect to do. And that's why I think we stay in this impasse.

ISAACSON: You know, about 10 years ago you wrote that you're from a mixed- race background but you had -- I think you used the phrase ethical obligation to identify race as black. What made you change?

WILLIAMS: The birth of my first child. You know, I wrote that op-ed in "The New York Times" arguing that race wasn't biologically meaningful but

that it was essentially ethnically meaningful. And I really couldn't defend that when I thought about how I might send my child out into the world and

teach her what essentially was the logic of the slave owner, the logic of the plantation, that even though no one could perceive that a drop of black

blood made her black and that she must present herself in the world as black.

And I didn't want to send out her out in the world saying, therefore, I'm white. I wanted to send her out in the world saying that these are not

categories, these are not meaningful for me, that I have both of these histories in me, but these are not biologically meaningful. And we have to

find a flew language for what is culturally and what is politically and what is socially meaningful.

ISAACSON: You've been a great defender of the classics, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle. Even though some have said, you know, that's imposing sort of a

white western narrative on a multicultural society. First off, tell me about your father, you know, growing up black in Galveston, Texas, being

turned onto the classics and how that affected your thinking.

WILLIAMS: My father lived -- he was born in 1937, grew up in Galveston, Texas, segregated part of town. And a neighbor of his, there was a pile of

books that he found on the neighbor's property. And one of the books was Will Durant's, "The Story of Philosophy." My father was quite young, under

10 years old. And he says that he just was flipping through the book and saw this image of Socrates and that he was transfixed by it. And he was

trying to understand how this guy's face which was not a remarkable face, it was actually a kind of funny looking face, how it was something

important enough to be preserved in a book across all these years.

And so, you know, this led him to reading Plato's dialogues at some point. And, you know, this was a lifeline for him. At that point in time, I mean,

my father's identity was telling him that he was a second-class citizen. And the ideas that he encountered in these texts were telling him that his

humanity was far more expansive than that.

And so, this was the first step in a lifelong process of transcending the parochial, the local and getting in touch with, you know, the universal.

And this is the message that my father always instilled in me and that, you know, I think is very important to uphold this kind of time in the culture

wars where everything becomes hyperpolarized and everything becomes a matter of what represents me, what is speaking to me directly as the

classics and this kind of transcendent power, this liberatory power of an education, it breaks down those barriers.

ISAACSON: Yes, but Plato's dialogues and the Socratic dialogues, they actually defend slavery at times. How do you disentangle that from the

universal values you've just talked about? Because that's almost a metaphor for what we have to disentangle in our society today.


WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I mean, slavery was a fact of human societies for most of human existence. So, I don't think that everything that's said,

you know, in the republic is 2022 life advice to follow. But, you know, the idea that slavery that Plato was talking about is exactly the equivalent to

the kind of chattel slavery that happened in the American South is also -- it's overly simplistic.

And the idea that even Plato or Socrates could be thought of as white men is a kind of idea that really we have to, you know, discard because they

wouldn't understand themselves as white. They wouldn't understand themselves as having something in common with people that were outside of

the city State of Athens. Blackness and whiteness are relatively recent constructs. The way we conceive of racialized slavery is specific to our

time and our geography.

And so, I think that we have to be able to do justice to the past, which is to read the past on its own terms but also, to understand the things that

are eternal and that are linking us across time and space.

ISAACSON: Why have we become so polarized, so politicized, so tribal in our political instincts? What is the antidote to this era of polarization

and social tribalism?

WILLIAMS: It's going to have to be learning to trust each other again. I don't think there's any way that either side can have a total victory. And

we seem to be perceiving politics -- electoral politics, but also, we seem to be pursuing electoral politics as though we can have an electoral

victory. But the politicization of all the aspects of our life, which has really heated since 2016 or maybe a few years earlier than that, the

politization of every facet of our lives, this has made it that you have to have a total victory everywhere, that you cannot turn the politics off

anyway, you can't turn it off in your place of worship, you can't turn it off when you just started talking about whether you're wearing a mask to

the grocery store. You can't turn it off whether you just talk about whether a book is good or bad.

This is -- this will never heal our society so long as the stakes are so high in every aspect of our interaction. We have to find ways to just

depoliticize and come together and trust each other and socialize with each other. I think we live far too segregated lives.

ISAACSON: What are the classics and the humanities in general teach us about how we can heal our society today?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think the humanities teach us and classics teach us that you can -- that some societies don't heal. I think that study of the ark of

-- the history of the West is very important because you can see that there are times of decadence. There are times of bitter polarization and

balkanization where we don't actually listen to our better angels and when we don't allow the biggest questions to animate our discourse and we get

stuck in (INAUDIBLE) and disputes that degrade our social structure from within, and that we can actually become very vulnerable to outside foes or

just fall apart from a lack of solidarity.

So, I think, you know, there are -- the beautiful thing about the classics and the humanities, there are fewer answers than there are models of

thought and questions and, you know, history doesn't repeat itself but it rhymes. And so, I think that, you know, you have to constantly be thinking

about what was seen and done and thought and said before so that you -- you know, if you want to have a new thought, the best thing to do is to read an

old book.

And I think that too many of us are -- and, you know, I'm guilty of this, too, too many of us are getting too much of our thoughts generated from the

ultra-contemporary discourse all around us on social media.

ISAACSON: Thomas Chatterton Williams, thank you so much for joining us.

WILLIAMS: Thanks for having.


AMANPOUR: And finally, he may not be as old as Plato, but he hasn't been a teenager in more than 70 years. 92-year-old Malawian singer, Giddes

Chalamanda, is taking TikTok by a storm. Listen.





AMANPOUR: This ode to his daughter, Linny Hoo, was viewed over 80 million times putting the long-time singer back in the spotlight and even earning

him a birthday party hosted by Malawi's president. Chalamanda is tickled by all the love and attention, telling reporters, I feel like I'm top of the


That's it for now. And if you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast, and you can find that at and all major platforms. Just search for Amanpour or scan the QR code on your screens right now.

Remember you can always catch online. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.