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Interview With "The Kingdom, The Power And The Glory" Author Tim Alberta; Interview With The New York Times Magazine Staff Writer And "Rise And Kill First" Author Ronen Bergman; Interview With The New York Times Opinion Columnist Nicholas Kristof. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 05, 2023 - 13:00 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 Amour. Here's what's coming up.
A crescendo of warnings even from Republicans about the dangers of a second Trump term. The risk of America becoming an illiberal democracy and even a
religious republic. Author Tim Alberta joins me with his new book about Evangelicals and MAGA politics.
Next, an apocalyptic situation, U.N. officials say, there is no safe place for civilians as Israeli tanks descend on Southern Gaza. New York Times
reporter Ronen Bergman tells me about his exclusive reporting into Israel's intelligence failures before the October 7th attacks.
And, how is Houston fighting homelessness? Columnist Nicholas Kristof tells Hari Sreenivasan.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
And we begin with the rising threat to our democracies. For the first time in decades, there are more autocracies than liberal democracies around the
world, according to a European university that tracks these things. And fears about America are growing, if Donald Trump wins a second term to the
White House. Just six weeks before the Iowa caucuses, here's what former Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney says.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): People who say, well, if he's elected, it's not that dangerous because we have all of these checks and balances, don't
fully understand the extent to which the Republicans in Congress today have been co-opted.
One of the things that we see happening today is sort of a sleepwalking into a dictatorship in the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: These are startling words indeed. Not only does Trump face 91 criminal charges, but his extreme rhetoric on the campaign trail is a major
concern, describing political rivals as vermin. President Biden calls that Nazi talk. And Trump pledges to install ideological allies in key positions
to turn the Justice Department into his revenge squad.
Around the world, he has praised Saddam Hussein's brutal methods, the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and Putin's strongman tactics, just to mention
Central to Trump's support is his Christian Evangelical base. The Atlantic writer Tim Alberta's latest book, "The Kingdom, The Power, and The Glory,"
examines the nexus between the church and far-right politics. He saw it close up as a Christian whose father was an Evangelical minister, and he's
joining me now from New York.
Tim Alberta, welcome to the program. I want to first ask you about this nexus between the church and Trump and then go deeper into your book in a
moment. So, how do you explain what is it that sort of makes you investigate how the Evangelical church is, you know, essentially in hock to
TIM ALBERTA, AUTHOR, "THE KINGDOM, THE POWER AND THE GLORY": Christiane, thank you for having me. I think what we've come to realize in recent
years, those of us outside of the church, but I think even more so those of us inside the church is that something has changed with the American
Christian and particularly the American Evangelical's mentality as it pertains to country and politics and the degree to which America, or at
least the idealized America of their youth, a predominantly white Christian culture is slipping away from them.
And they look at Donald Trump more and more as someone who can keep the barbarians outside of the gates, someone who can stop this decline, even
though he does not share their values or share their beliefs, this is someone who, as a strongman, can protect them.
The danger in that, of course, as we've seen throughout world history, is that when autocracy and strongman politics merge with religious zealotry
and religious justification for violence, we see disaster time and time again. And that is, to be very blunt about it, the trajectory that we are
headed toward in the United States, if something isn't done about it.
AMANPOUR: So, you know, not just the collision, but actually religious -- you know, the religious imperative, let's say, can often be a cover for
that authoritarianism. It doesn't just happen. So, I wonder what the Evangelicals who you know and who you've, you know, been writing about for
this book say when you hear, you know, about him completely openly talking about his authoritarian impulses.
Here's some of the current headlines. You know, "The Washington Post," Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. That's Robert Kagan. "The
New York Times," why a second Trump presidency may be more radical than his first. And your own magazine, "The Atlantic," the threat of a second Trump
term poses, you know, to the American democracy.
So, how did, with this base, did America get to this place and does this religious base condone the -- I guess, the thoughts behind these headlines?
ALBERTA: Well, I think it's important to recognize that as we see in Russia with its invasion of Ukraine, that oftentimes a public that is unwilling to
embrace certain policies as a matter of secular partisan politics, they can be convinced to rally around those same policies when there is a religious
justification injected into them.
And we're seeing something similar happening in the United States today, specifically, when Donald Trump faces these piling criminal indictments,
and when he goes out on the campaign trail and says to these voters that, really, they're coming after you. They just have to come after me first.
But ultimately, you're their enemy. They're coming after you. They're coming after your churches. They're coming after your religion.
That is connecting and resonating deeply with an Evangelical movement in America, Christiane, that has been marinating in that sort of end times
rhetoric for generations. In other words, it may be unfamiliar to those outside of the church, but as someone who grew up listening to that sort of
talk, this idea that Christianity was in the crosshairs and that to defeat God and to defeat God's purpose for the world, that they would have to
first defeat America, that has effectively convinced millions and millions of people that fighting for the United States and fighting for their
version, a conservative Judeo Christian Republican United States, is every bit fighting for the almighty himself, and Trump instinctively understands
this much in the same way I would say that Vladimir Putin has weaponized similar religious justification for his invasion of Ukraine.
AMANPOUR: And weaponize it and actually, you know, being blessed publicly by the patriarch, the Orthodox Patriarch Kirill there in Russia was a huge
deal at the beginning of the war when we saw those pictures and those images.
So, the idea of what you say, you know, the church has been marinating in this. Trump himself, very, very early on, way before he was a political,
you know, figment of anybody's imaginations, you know, said to "Playboy" magazine, when the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese
government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our
country is right now perceived as weak.
So, this was highlighted from an old, you know, "Playboy" magazine interview. So, he's been telegraphing this stuff for a long time. Has the
religious base been following this for a long time?
ALBERTA: Yes. And in fact, I think it's important to recognize that when we think about Donald Trump and his personal history and his, some of his
moral shortcomings, the, you know, the divorces and the mistresses paraded through the tabloids and all of the messy stuff in his personal life, we
might be tempted to think, well, he would never be a match for the religious right. He would never be held up as an exemplar or a
representative of this movement.
And yet, Christiane, I think in some way, Trump is a strongman and a champion for this movement because he's not one of them. In other words, so
many of these people, when they think about their personal power or their collective power as Christians being eroded in this country, they've come
to think of Trump as someone who is all the more powerful because he is not bound by biblical dogma. He is not having to observe their same rules. And
in many ways, that is his superpower.
So, when Trump says to Christians that, if you elect me, I will make sure that you have power, I will make sure that Christianity has power, I will
make sure that the church has power, that is exactly the message these people want to hear, even while they acknowledge that the messenger is very
AMANPOUR: So, would that -- therefore, the delivery on that promise, would that have been putting in the judges in place who eventually overturned Roe
v. Wade? Is it as basic as that?
ALBERTA: I think it goes beyond that, Christiane. I think that that -- in a first Trump term, that yes, we were thinking about policies. We were
thinking about abortion. We were thinking about religious liberty. We were thinking about the court appointments.
I think some of these headlines you were referencing a moment ago speak to what might come in the future. When Donald Trump just recently on the
campaign trail in New Hampshire floated the idea of a religious litmus test for people entering the country, this is beyond the Muslim ban that we saw
in his first term.
Trump is now saying explicitly that if you are a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, an atheist, if you are anything except a professing Christian, we might not
let you into this country anymore as an immigrant. And I would add that that is just the scratching of the surface as far as what Donald Trump and
some of the people around him in a second term have in mind for an agenda as it pertains to almost a marrying of church and state.
Not because Donald Trump is personally religious, not because Donald Trump is in any way guided by the dictates of scripture, but simply because he
views power and his ability to consolidate power as a matter of the state as inextricably tied to the power of the Evangelical Christian movement in
AMANPOUR: So, you know, particularly at his first term, people said, oh, you know, Trump talks a difficult game. He's always being -- you know,
saying crazy things. But actually, he's got a bunch of adults around him. He doesn't really believe this stuff. And the adults will, you know, keep
the parameters and the guardrails on.
Do you think that there's a little bit of that that still exists? Do you think Trump is just saying all this stuff or do you think that we should
pay attention to what he's actually saying, and certainly what his aides and campaign staff are saying?
ALBERTA: Not only do I think that the guardrails no longer exist, but in fact, I believe that Trump will now be surrounded by people who will
encourage his very worst impulses. In other words, no longer will you have the Paul Ryans and the James Mattis's and the John Kellys and the H. R.
McMasters in the West Wing trying to get Trump to sort of step back from or talk him out of the things that could be most damaging to the country, you
will now have people actively encouraging those worst basic sorts of primal political instincts.
And I would add, Christiane, in the context of what we've been discussing around Christian nationalism, around the marrying of church and state,
there will be people in a Trump White House in prominent positions who are self-described Christian nationalists, people who very much view themselves
as existing, you know, in a world where theocracy is not a dirty word, and people who are going to take every opportunity in a second Trump term to
make sure that Christianity is promoted at the expense of other religions at the expense of other traditions, faith or otherwise.
And so, these are individuals who I think have a plan in place for another Trump term that it would I think be unprecedented in the scope and in the
sweep of how they envision the state's relationship with the church, but not only that, the church's relationship with the broader culture.
AMANPOUR: So, can I ask you whether the church is unified on this? I mean, have some of them seen enough of the first Trump term and maybe a not so --
you know, so much behind him as they were before? I ask you because you, as I mentioned in the lead in to you, grew up Christian Evangelical, your
father was a minister, you grew up in that church. What was it that made you understand that things were very different?
ALBERTA: Well, there was a long simmering, long festering concern that I had with institutional Christianity in this country, even as I have
remained a committed Christian, a committed follower of Jesus, acknowledging at the same time that at an organizational level, there was
something troubling, deeply troubling about what was happening to Christianity in this country.
I think ultimately it required something like the Trump presidency, like COVID-19, like the murder of George Floyd in the summer of racial unrest
that we went through in America to really rip the band aid off and expose these schisms in the church. And to your question, Christiane, those
schisms are deeper than ever.
To be clear, yes, Trump does have the unflinching loyalty and support of tens of millions of white Evangelicals in this country, but there are many,
many white Evangelicals in this country, many millions who are completely terrified of what a Trump re-election would mean.
People who voted for him once, maybe even voted for him twice, but who now, in the aftermath of January 6th, and in light of the rhetoric that he's
using, they want nothing to do with Donald Trump. And at the same time, they're not sure that they could vote for Joe Biden, either, because of
their personal moral convictions on abortion and other issues.
So, there's a really fascinating puzzle to be put together here as we head toward the 2024 election. What do some of these voters do who now feel
completely homeless politically? Will they sit out the election? Will they vote for a third-party? Can Trump possibly convince some of them to come
back into the fold?
There's really no telling exactly how this might play out, but it really is unprecedented particularly because this is the first post Roe v. Wade
presidential election that we've had in this country, and many millions of voters who were mobilized around that single issue of abortion at the
federal level, they now have reason to say, well, maybe I don't need to vote in this presidential election.
AMANPOUR: And final question, because it's just so counterintuitive. Mike Pence was Trump's vice president. He was a very -- and is a very religious
Christian. And yet, in the insurrection, when he did the right thing and wouldn't overturn the election, people started calling -- you know, to hang
Mike Pence. Do the Evangelicals not kind of get it? I mean, do they -- what do they think when they hear that, you know, hang Mike Pence, one of their
ALBERTA: Well, it's interesting, Christiane. It's a great question. I've spent a lot of time describing the external threat to Christianity in
America as they perceive it, right? So, from the secular culture, from the secular media, from the secular government, from the deep state, all of
these are the externalized threats that many Evangelicals are worried about.
But there is also an internal threat as they see it, and that internal threat is people who are unwilling to recognize the apocalyptic stakes
here. People who are unwilling to realize that Christian America is on its knees and that its last days are here unless we fight back.
People like Mike Pence, people who, in his case, were unwilling to cast aside the constitution in order to keep Donald Trump in office, that makes
him a coward, that makes him weak, that makes him not a Christian in the eyes of many of these folks.
And I don't think that we've begun, Christiane, to fully grapple with that sort of purge now happening inside the Evangelical church, where people who
adhere to all of the conservative theology, all the conservative biblical doctrine, people who themselves are politically and culturally still quite
conservative, and yet, they're not radical enough to remain a part of this Evangelical movement that they have called home for so long. That is the
great internal divide now happening inside the church that I've attempted to address in this book.
AMANPOUR: Well, it is an extraordinary read. Tim Alberta, thank you so much indeed. And you certainly are grappling with it for us all.
We turn now to Gaza, which U.N. officials describe as increasingly apocalyptic, with no safe place to go and more than 80 percent of the
population displaced as Israel expands its ground operations in the south. Correspondent Ben Wedeman joins us now from Jerusalem.
Ben, tell me from the best of your ability, not being in Gaza, what -- what's going on for the actual people there who are being ordered again for
the umpteenth time to move and evacuate and find some safe space?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're seeing, Christiane, is that they are living in horrendous conditions and
the weather has been very rainy and cold today here in Jerusalem and also down in Gaza with the weather forecast talking about possible flash floods
What you have is tens of thousands of people who have more than once had to move, but now, they're moving to areas where they've basically been putting
up tents with thin plastic sheeting being the only protection from the elements in these makeshift camps where there's no running water, there's
no electricity, there's no sanitation, there's no toilets.
And they've simply been -- had to go there because places like Khan Younis are now an active battle zone, and it's just not safe. So, they've gone to
these places. But already we saw, for instance, in those U.N. schools that had been converted into shelters, that there is a rising incidence, for
instance, of intestinal diseases, diarrhea, skin diseases, hepatitis C is spreading among these people, and now they're exposed to the elements.
And of course, we know that when you're not eating well, when you're exposed to the elements, your immunity drops, and therefore, this increases
yet more the danger of disease, and we've heard the head of the World Health Organization expressing the concern that perhaps as the situation --
the humanitarian situation, continues to deteriorate, there's a very real threat that more people could die from disease than from the bombing.
AMANPOUR: And honestly, on the basic level of food, we have seen awful pictures, you've included them, the bombings of a bakery, and people just
being reported as scrabbling through the rubble to try to find, something to eat, because the relief -- you know, the relief effort is very choppy.
WEDEMAN: A very choppy indeed. I think today perhaps maybe 50 trucks got in, but every day it's a struggle. And we were speaking with a
representative of the World Food Programme, a program in Cairo because much of the food aid comes through Cairo, they have not been able to send in any
trucks since the end of the truth on truce on Friday morning.
So, food is running short. I mean, some people we've seen are basically eating dry, stale bread that in the past was fed to livestock, but now,
people actually have to eat it. So, on top of everything else, you have the specter of famine, which, is at the moment, it doesn't appear anybody's
dying of hunger, but certainly malnutrition could become a problem in the near future, if aid does not get in.
The stores are empty for the most part. There are some vegetables and fruit available on the market, but sort of the groceries that you would buy, like
rice, sugar, cooking oil, are in desperately short supply. Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Ben, thank you very much for joining us from Jerusalem with that information.
In the meantime, Israel's military intelligence has been under scrutiny after a "New York Times" report revealed they had seen a Hamas battle plan
over a year in advance. Ronen Bergman broke that story for "The Times," and he joins me now from Tel Aviv.
Ronen, I want to get to that in a moment, but the most urgent matter, I think, is for you to describe the best of your knowledge what is happening
in this expanded phase, who they're going after, what are the targets? We hear, you know, the leaders talking about going after people like the
notorious Yahya Sinwar, the presumed ringleader and mastermind of October 7th.
RONEN BERGMAN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Yes. So, from the Israeli point of view, this is an advanced stage of the last phase of a
conquering Gaza Strip, taking control over the Gaza Strip. This is not yet what they believe to be the prime goal, which is dismantling Hamas and
freeing the hostages, but is seizing total control over the above ground hemisphere of the Strip.
The Israeli forces entered the Southern Strip. They are in the middle of a fierce fighting inside Khan Younis, which is the city from where Yahya
Sinwar, the leader of Hamas, and Mohammed Deif, the military commander of Hamas, came from. This is where they are believed to be. This is where most
of the hostages are believed to be kept. And this is the -- from the Israeli point of view, and I believe from the Hamas point of view, this is
the last, the last battle.
Israelis are looking for Deif, Sinwar, Marwan Issa, who is the number three in Hamas, and Ahmed (ph) Sinwar, the brother of the leader of Hamas.
AMANPOUR: I want to go straight now to your exclusive reporting about the - - having seen a plan. Talk to us about how detailed the plan was. What could have been inferred from it? Why wasn't it taken seriously?
BERGMAN: So, this story with my great colleague Adam Goldman was about a plan. The plan was the last stage, the last version of an ongoing
developing plan since 2012.
The goals remained the same, breaking the front, raiding the Gaza Division camp, destroying or eliminating the whole of the Gaza Division, and then
sending forces all over the southern hemisphere of Israel communities, villages, kibbutzim, army camps to start the massive massacre.
Now, it developed, and the version -- the last version, the last updated version that the military intelligence, Israeli military intelligence, was
able to obtain more than a year ago during 2022, is a 40 pages plan, starting with the phrase from the Quran, from Surat al-Ma'idah, basically,
I'm translating roughly from Arabic, whoever comes to this gate, surprisingly, will be blessed by Allah. The gate, of course, is the
defense, the physical massive subterranean and above terrain barrier that Israel erected to stop those kinds of raids.
Now, when you read that, Christiane, the first thing you feel is shock. Forty pages with the most detailed, specified intelligence on how the
fortification of that border work. Where are the cell phone towers? Where are the communication hubs? Where is the base where they have the scouts
that are operating the automatic remote control machine guns? They are -- they have such a precise intelligence that one start to doubt if this is
all coming from open sources or commercial satellite or even someone that got the permit to work in Israel and work as a guard in one of the
kibbutzim and was recruited by Hamas.
It cannot come from there. And I'm sure that somewhere in Israeli intelligence there are people who are looking for the sort of -- source of
this this leak. But it's not just the intelligence, it's the way that they translate Hamas operational military wing, as Adil al-Qassam (ph), the way
they translate that into a massive attack. It's not even a raid, it's an invasion.
They -- the plan is about 60 different points in which they break the wall and storm through simultaneously with a massive bombardment of Israel as a
decoy, as a diversion of attention with missiles and drones and others, doing everything at the same time, enabling hundreds of teams to flood into
Israel, start the massive killing and the destruction of Israeli citizens and army camps.
AMANPOUR: So, why then did it not get taken seriously, or did it, or what happened to this plan that was seen?
BERGMAN: So, at first, this is a major achievement for Israeli intelligence to get this point. And, of course, the important point with the plan is
that what happened on October 7 is the exact execution of that plan.
Now, why didn't Israel acted upon that? Because -- and it was sent and shared with many seniors and senior military analysts, experts with Hamas,
all of them but one saw this plan as "a compass for the building of the force."
So, not the reflection of Hamas status, Hamas capabilities, Hamas competence, but where Hamas wants to be, not what Hamas can do now, but
what Hamas wants to do where this plan is about 2,000 Nukhba, Hamas commandos, crossing into Israel, breaking the fence, Israeli intelligence
believe that they can send only two platoons with at most 17 Nukhba commandos.
So, 70, 2,000.
AMANPOUR: Yes. So, Ronen --
BERGMAN: -- tells the story of this tragedy.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And you said only one person figured out that it was important, and this was a woman, I understand, a key female intelligence
AMANPOUR: And she was essentially dismissed by her -- you know, her male colleagues. I'm not putting a gender thing in here, but I'm just saying it
because that's part of your story. And it may actually -- you know, it may actually, you know, be a critical omission there.
So, the question now is then, there are people who have taken responsibility for this massive intelligence failure before we even knew
about this plan, but it doesn't seem -- or does it? What is the blowback against Netanyahu? Do you think he can survive this?
BERGMAN: I think that any bet on the political horizon of Netanyahu is a very risky thing. I think that the chances that this is the last phase of
his political career are getting higher. The older polls having mass percentage of the people asked blaming Netanyahu, some of them Netanyahu
alone, in what happened.
But on the other hand, Netanyahu and his colleagues and his massive propaganda machine are running an attack trying to smear the leaders of the
military, the intelligence, and this is why those people are fighting, are running the war, smear them with all sorts of accusations. Forgetting to
mention what Mark Mazzetti, my colleague at "The New York Times," and myself published just a month ago, that Netanyahu received many verbal
warnings and four different letters during the last year saying to him, the enemies of Israel, the so-called axis of resistance, Hamas, Hezbollah,
Iran, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others, the Houthis, they see Israel as weak because of the political crisis that started because of the judicial
overhaul that Netanyahu was igniting.
They said to the prime minister, if you continue with this, they might attack Israel because they believe that Israel is weak with the
disassemblement of the reserve military. And Netanyahu, not just that he disregard that, and not just that sometimes he didn't even refuse to see
the people who were able -- like not enabling them to give him the warnings, he continued the judicial overall process with a total nonchalant
to any of those warnings.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, I did put that to Mark Regev because I, you know, had read that story a few weeks ago and I put it to his main spokesman and
adviser. And he said he would, A, get back to me, but mostly importantly, that this would be taken care of after the war. So, I didn't get an answer
But when is the end of the war? Is -- you know, we've heard potentially they're digging in for a year. We -- you know, I've certainly -- but what
do you think? What are you hearing? How long can they keep this up?
BERGMAN: Well, if I was, you know, trying to be too sophisticated, then I would ask you, Christiane, how do you define a war? But I won't. This is, I
think, a timetable that maybe Netanyahu and some of his political counterparts that understand that their chances to be re-elected are very
slim, they would be maybe happy to have a very long war because the notion in Israel, the mindset is that first you fight, then you win, then you
As the sort of question -- the sort of comment you got from Mark Regev. But as long as they are fighting, people don't start to demonstrate again.
People do not demand the immediate resignation of Netanyahu. The inquiry, the investigation don't start.
And so, I believe that they are talking about one war. In reality, seniors of the Israeli military understand that maybe, for this phase of the war,
so an ongoing ground of operation and ground controlling of the Strip when they conquer Khan Younis, they believe that the U.S. would not give Israel
more than a month.
They are speaking of one year to take all the subterranean spaghetti. But realistically, the assessment is that they have very -- a very short time
to finish whatever they want to do to dismantle Hamas and then be under severe U.S. pressure to withdraw.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you finally, the horror of October 7th, 1,200 Israelis slaughtered, many 250, maybe now they say 138 hostages remaining in Gaza,
they're obviously trying to get them back as well. But we also understand that the senior military have said to at least AFP, and I've heard this
reported, that some 5000 militants, and this was before the ceasefire, had been killed.
So, that leaves about 11,000 or so, you know -- the deficit is 11,000. And we understood that, you know, the military is saying, you know, it's a --
it's pretty much two civilians killed for every Hamas militant killed. What do the Israeli people see of what's going on in Gaza? Are they aware? Is it
on the front pages? Is it on the television like it is all over the rest of the world? The children, the women, the civilians?
BERGMAN: Well, it is to some extent, but far being very candid here, far from the place, the real estate, it gets on the front pages of "The New
York Times" and other international media outlet, as it should.
I think that what happened on October 7 did to the Israelis what President Biden was cautioning them from doing, blind -- and blinded them with rage.
They believe that what happened -- many Israelis believe that what happened needs to be answered with fierce force, that it cannot be done. And this is
about the timeline the IDF is trying to make for finishing the operation, it cannot be done until they dismantle Hamas. It's not just about revenge,
it's about revenge as well.
When you take revenge, you don't think about the other, but it's also about making a point that would deter other Israeli enemies.
BERGMAN: Long way to say, I think Israelis are maybe mainly preoccupied with their wounds and have very little bandwidth to think about the wounds
AMANPOUR: Ronen Bergman, thank you very much indeed.
BERGMAN: Tragedy of this conflict.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Turning now to a problem that the United States and communities around the world have long struggled with, and that is
homelessness. But according to our next guest, the City of Houston may have a solution. Nicholas Kristof is an opinion columnist for "The New York
Times," and for his latest piece, he visited Houston and Dallas to compare how both are addressing the issue, as he tells Hari Sreenivasan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Nick Kristof, thanks so much for joining us.
Nick, your recent reporting for "The New York Times," an op-ed contribution, looked at homelessness. And what was interesting to me is
most of the news around homelessness today is pretty hopeless. And I want to first start off with asking you why you chose to focus on these two
cities in Texas.
NICK KRISTOF, OPINION COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I'm on the West Coast and, you know, frankly, up and down the West Coast in the cities, it
really does feel pretty despairing. And I've been told that Dallas and Houston were a great microcosm of what works and what doesn't work. That,
you know, Dallas and Houston are both blue cities. They both cared about homelessness. They both had homelessness problems, and both tried to
address it quite seriously.
And the upshot was that in Dallas, the problem got worse. And in Houston, they managed to reduce homelessness by more than 60 percent since 2011. And
so, I thought, look, most of the country is Dallas, but Houston has figured out how to make progress. We should learn from it. So, I went to the two
cities and tried to learn something.
SREENIVASAN: Yes. Let's look at the positive first. What was or what is Houston doing right to drop their homeless numbers so significantly?
KRISTOF: So, you know, there's no secret sauce and Houston still has a homelessness problem, just they've done better than others, but it's not
But, you know, I think they did a few things really well. They had really strong political leadership. They have a strong mayor system, and that
mayor use the -- those powers to -- maybe above all, to herd the nonprofits who are in this area, to herd them so they're all pulling in the same
direction so that they coordinate their efforts.
You know, in a lot of cities, you know, different outreach organizations will reach one homeless person, you know, five times and won't reach
another at all. They -- in Houston, they were very, very good about coordinating and about execution. They also did, I think, a -- the backdrop
is that in Houston, it's cheap and easy to build housing.
And so, you know, in Houston, you can build a one-bedroom apartment for, say, $200,000. You know, meanwhile, in San Francisco, it is cost, in some
cases, more than a million dollars to provide a single housing unit for people or homeless.
And I guess finally that -- you know, in Houston, they really focused not just on general help for people who were on the streets, like giving out
jackets or counseling, but above all, just relentlessly on moving people into housing and then on keeping them there.
SREENIVASAN: You know, we hear in -- on "The Times" you walking around watching someone that's on the streets get interviewed. What was -- what
worked in that compared to how different nonprofits are trying to do intake in different cities?
KRISTOF: So, in a lot of cities that intake process is not coordinated in contrast in Houston, there is a central database. So, all the nonprofits,
there are about a hundred nonprofits in Houston that work with people who are homeless. So, they all work on a central database. A person is entered
into the system. Everybody else knows that they are in there, what they have, what they need.
And then, this intake process was just so much focus on the barriers to housing. So, for example, in this case one of the basic barriers was this
gentleman, Joe Cavazos (ph). He did not have an I.D. And, you know, that is just so common among people. They don't have their birth certificate. They
don't have a driver's license. They can't prove who they are.
And so, even if he had been able to apply for a government I.D., there would have been no way to get it to him. There would have been no way to
tell him that, you know where to pick it up. And so, Houston has set up a really good system to provide those government I.D.s so that people can be
put on a track to housing. And so, that's -- you know, that's kind of where it starts.
SREENIVASAN: And let's juxtapose what's happening in Houston from a city just a few hours' drive away, in Dallas. What is Dallas emblematic of in
how that city deals with homelessness compared to so many other cities in America?
KRISTOF: So, in Dallas, the traditional efforts were, you know, very uncoordinated. They were very well meaning and they did some things, you
know, really well, but it wasn't coordinated. It's a weaker mayor system. It's -- execution just did not work.
And I guess really what struck me was that while Dallas was full of compassion and full of good intentions, you know, good intentions are not
enough. And it is about evidence-based policy, it's about execution. In the early 2000s one city after another all around the country introduced 10-
year plans to eliminate homelessness. And looking back, those 10-year plans to eliminate homelessness were really just symbolic. They really didn't
And I think around the country and in Dallas, there were a lot of those, you know, announcements, a lot of talk about how housing is a human right,
but none of that actually got people into housing.
There is a little bit of a postscript. The folks in Dallas, when I was asking about this, they were -- you know, it was kind of a prickly
conversation to be the contrast to Houston. But a few years ago, Dallas really just got fed up with the homelessness. They saw Houston's success
and they began to copy the Houston model. And so, as a result, now, the last two years, Dallas has made real progress against homelessness using
that Houston model.
Now, Dallas is really excited that they've turned the corner, that numbers of people who were homeless in Dallas are going down. And so, they're --
you know, they're kind of excited that now they've got it right and are quite full of optimism.
Houston, on the other hand, while it has been very successful, I think faces some real challenges. Houston has done this on the cheap, which is
impressive that they haven't spent the hundreds of millions of dollars that the West Coast cities have, but Houston has essentially used federal money,
typically COVID money, and that is now running out.
And so, the challenge will be, you know, will -- you know, Houston has developed a model that works, but will it be willing to fund the model with
its own money rather than just federal money coming in? And that is unclear. I think there is some real anxiety among Houston civic leaders
about whether they can sustain the momentum when they're forced to rely on their own resources.
SREENIVASAN: So, zoom out from these two cities for a little bit. How significant is the problem in the United States?
KRISTOF: So, it's an -- you know, it's an enormous problem. On any given night about 580,000 people are homeless. And, you know, that's on any one
night, but the problem is much greater because people cycle in and out of homelessness.
And, you know, they -- for a while, they're on somebody's couch, then, you know, they've -- they find a place and then they're in the car and then
they're in a shelter and then they get a place. And it's -- we only tend to see the tip of the iceberg that is represented by people who are
unsheltered and actually out on the street.
There's an enormous number of folks who are -- and especially the kids, including those who go to school, who are, you know, doubled up on couches
and neighbors plays who are in vehicles, this kind of thing. And I especially worry about the impact on kids, kids who are growing up in that
situation. How can you concentrate in school when -- you know, when you don't have a home?
SREENIVASAN: So, what are some of the primary reasons that people slip into homelessness? I mean, is it, you know, medical debt? Is it a divorce? I
mean, what kinds of reasons did you see when you were walking and talking with people who are adding homeless populations into Houston's database on
a daily basis?
KRISTOF: So, a financial crisis of some kind is very often what tips people who are vulnerable and fragile into homelessness. So, a health crisis, a
medical crisis is very often a factor. And it's not just the bills, but it may mean that somebody no longer has the ability to work.
We have so many Americans around the country who are just living right on the edge, paycheck to paycheck. And, you know, the moment that paycheck
doesn't come in they're in a crisis.
They're also an enormous number of folks who might be able to afford, you know, $700 a month, $800 a month for rent, but they have bad credit or they
have an eviction history. And if you have an eviction history in the last seven years, it is very, very difficult to get anybody to rent to you. You
know, likewise, if you have a felony conviction, very, very difficult. And so, all those are factors.
But, again, I think there is a risk of focusing just on the population that is homeless and not on the structural factor of not enough housing. The
metaphor that is often used as musical chairs, and if you have a game of musical chairs, and there is one seat too few, there is going to be
somebody who lacks a chair. And in the same way, if we don't have enough housing, there are going to be some people who -- you know, who are out of
And in that scramble, it's going to be people who are -- is competent, least skilled, more disabled, and, you know, very often that is people with
addictions, with alcoholism with various other issues, but the fundamental problem is not enough chairs or not enough housing.
SREENIVASAN: So, I understand that it's less expensive to build a new structure in Houston, but how much does, for example, zoning factor into
where people can get shelter?
KRISTOF: Zoning and more broadly kind of nimby issues, not in my backyard issues are, I think, a huge factor. And, you know, look, I'm a liberal and
I believe in zoning. I've always believed in it.
And when I was driving into Houston for this story, I saw this endless urban sprawl, and I'm feeling kind of smug that, you know, back in Oregon,
we don't have that kind of sprawl. But I mean, the uncomfortable truth is that that lack of zoning also makes it cheap and quick to build. And it's
one reason why the cost of housing is a lot cheaper in Houston than it is in Oregon or in California.
And so, there are real tradeoffs there that I think my world of liberals has to wrestle with that, you know, we try to preserve neighborhood
character, we try to preserve while spaces, and those are important goals, but the upshot of that and also is effectively that we often give a veto to
communities over building new housing, and that raises housing costs. And when you have a higher housing costs, then you end up with people who are
We got rid of SRO housing around the country beginning in the 1960s, and that was intended as a way of improving neighborhoods. And in fact, one of
the upshots was that we ended up with more people sleeping on sidewalks.
SREENIVASAN: When you said SROs, you mean single room occupancies, right?
KRISTOF: Yes. Hari, the -- I mean, the paradox is that historically we had solutions to homelessness in the form of cheap housing. So, we had single
residency occupancy, hotels and buildings, that were a little like a dorm. It' be a -- you know, a small room to sleep in and then a shared bathroom,
maybe some kind of shared kitchen facility. And the only real advantage of those was that they were cheap and they weren't great housing, but they
were so much better than sleeping on the street.
And then, because they had a reputation for being seedy, they were kind of zoned out of existence in city after city around the country, and, you
know, we thought that we were improving neighborhoods to the upshot when people didn't have access to those was that they often ended up on the
street, and I think we have to provide something like those old traditional boarding houses, rooming houses the way we once did.
SREENIVASAN: So, when you think about that, not in my backyard tendency, and so many places around the country who want to shelter people and what
can they learn from Houston or other places?
KRISTOF: So, I think that part of it, indeed, has to be to ease the housing shortage and make it easier to build. And there are a number of ways to do
that. You know, one is simply that we -- there are about 35 million unused bedrooms in America. And it used to be common in the United States to have,
you know, a basement flat that one would rent out or occasionally to take in a border.
There are a lot of four-and-five-bedroom homes reflecting a housing stock that served a much larger nuclear family structure that are, you know,
hugely underused, those could be turned into rooming houses, which used to be very common and now, have pretty much vanished.
And I think that also, you know, I'd love to see cities like Portland or San Francisco learn from Houston and have this kind of coordinated approach
of nonprofits to support -- to reach people.
You know, in Portland, there actually was a survey of people who were homeless. And two-thirds had not been ever contacted by an outreach worker
in ways that would lead to housing. And of the one-third who had been contacted, most had -- there'd never been any follow up.
You know, one thing that Houston has done with that outreach also is find - - is to ask people, you know, is there any relative who might be able to help you, to be in touch with you, to take you in, to provide support if
you're trying to get off of drugs, or is there any source of income? Are you a veteran who -- is there any disability possibilities or any income
stream you might be eligible for? And all these things, you know, at the margin, they help.
SREENIVASAN: So, what's the most effective policy that research has found is doing the most to stop homelessness? I mean, is it as simple as just
saying housing or sheltering people, or is there a difference or distinction between, say, homeless shelters and giving somebody an
apartment, a set of keys so that medical services or other social services can show up at a centralized location? I mean, what's working?
KRISTOF: So, I do think that fundamentally providing more housing, more cheap housing is the single biggest factor. There's quite a bit of research
that underscores that.
And for example, West Virginia has an enormous problem with addiction, but West Virginia does not have a substantial homelessness problem because in
West Virginia you can, you know, rent a small apartment for $500 or $600 a month. You know, try doing that in California.
And so, I do think that providing more housing, lowering the costs that's making it more accessible helps a great deal. I think we have to tackle
this issue of people with bad credit or with eviction histories. One of the, you know, problems is that if you -- if you're facing $1,000 rent, you
don't just have to pay $1,000, you have to also pay, you know, a month security deposit, for example, you have to pay various fees. And so, there
are a lot of folks who might be able to pay that monthly rent, but can't afford all these fees to get them off the street.
And then, you know, outreach work. Good outreach just makes such a difference in trying to help people make that move into housing.
SREENIVASAN: Nick Kristof of "The New York Times," thanks so much for joining us.
KRISTOF: Good to be with you, Hari.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, a journey with Tom Hanks that's a little out of this world. His latest project is not your traditional movie, but rather a
massive, immersive documentary indulging his other passion as a self- described space nut.
It's called Moonwalkers, about the Apollo landings, and takes place at the Lightroom, right here in London. Narrated and co-written by Hanks, he
interviews the next generation of astronauts. Here's a snippet from our conversation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM HANKS, ACTOR AND WRITER: For myself, when I was 13, 13 years old, the Apollo missions were this example of -- it was an evolutionary place in the
consciousness of humankind because the only reason to go to the moon was because we're human beings and we desire to figure out what is on the other
side of the hill. And that affected me very much then and I still carry it with me now, because look, nobody got rich from going to the moon. Nobody
claimed territory for their own.
Yes, there's American flags planted up there to celebrate the 400,000 people that made it possible, but it is -- it's essentially the story of if
we're human beings, do we not have to remain curious and we not have to strive in order to see what is on the other side of that hill?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And you can see that interview in full on tomorrow night's show. "Moonwalkers" opens to the public tomorrow.
That's it for now. Thanks for watching. Goodbye from London.