Eugene Robinson Live (July 25)

Eugene Robinson
Jul 25, 2017

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news today at 1 p.m.

Read Eugene's latest: Forget ‘A Better Deal.’ Here’s what would actually work for Democrats.

Where to begin? There's the Senate procedural vote on health care, of course. There's the parade of Trump family members and hangers-on marching from hearing to hearing on the Hill. There's the bizarre and ugly spectacle of a sitting president publicly humiliating his attorney general, who happens to be one of the president's earliest prominent supporters. There's the revelation that President Trump's nominee to head the Justice Department's Criminal Division just happens to have represented one of Russia's largest banks. There's the Democrats' "A Better Deal" framework for the midterm elections. Much too much, but we'll do our best.

And one other thing: Trustworthy-loyal-helpful-friendly-courteous-kind-obedient-cheerful-thrifty-brave-clean-and-reverent. I was a Boy Scout -- not of any real distinction, I hasten to add, but I still remember the oath by heart. That unhinged speech that President Trump gave to the Jamboree last night just turned my stomach. I don't have any adjectives, just disgust. Let's get started.

Regardless of whether Trump is culpable in Russian's interference into the 2016 election, I want definitive answers and repercussions for the guilty. If the president can halt the investigation, why - beyond the Saturday night mass firing - could not Richard Nixon do the same for Watergate? How can Trump not realize that publicly announcing he wants it ended makes him and his administration look guilty? The best PR would be to state that as an American he is concerned and wants to implement measures to ensure the safety of our elections.

But he won't do that. Why? The only reasonable thesis at this point is that he has something to hide. He understands that he's making himself look guilty. He obviously believes disclosure of his deep, dark secrets would be worse.

Mr. Robinson, you write about a Universal Healthcare project proposal being a potential rallying point for Democrats, being used as a tangible thing to point to as emblematic of the party's goals and beliefs, as opposed to the vague terms of 'A Better Deal' My question: Do you then believe this is the best 'social Manhattan Project' that Dems could choose from? Why do you believe Universal Healthcare would be more possible/popular/etc than, say, a large scale infrastructure project of the like, Universal Free Public Higher Education, or a large commission to address automation and an evolving workforce?

Those sound like good possibilities too. You might suggest them to the Democratic Party. 

move to a lower level of discourse. I know we don't know exactly when it happened, but it seems to coincide fairly closely to the time when the media got reports that he had been briefed that the special counsel would be able to subpoena his tax records (and that he wouldn't necessarily know that it had happened because they could come directly from treasury). Is that your perception as well? Things are happening so quickly, but I think there has been a definite large step down that probably started sometime last week.

I do think the president's reaction has become increasingly frantic. "Unhinged" is a pretty good word for what we're seeing and hearing. Your guess may well be right. It could be the tax returns. But there's no way of knowing at this point.

Hi Gene -- thanks for taking questions today. Your former WP colleague Chris Cilizza, now at CNN, suggests that Trump's twitter-shaming of Sessions is much more embarrassing to Trump than it is to Sessions. The only problem with that theory is that we have a president utterly incapable of embarrassment. Given that, where does this whole reality show go next? It would seem like Republican senators would be doing more to rally around one of their own, but that would mean crossing Trump, which in the current Republican wimporama isn't going to happen, so there twists Sessions in the wind...but for how long?

Another good question. At some point, senators have to ask whether it's wise to go out on a limb for Trump if he's going to saw it off. Other members of his Cabinet must be asking themselves the same question. There has to be a tipping point somewhere, but I'm not sure it's in sight just yet.

Do you think somewhere in D.C. serious members of Congress are getting together without even staff members to discuss what has become the Trump Problem? He can't stay. What are their steps? And it had better be bipartisan. Months ago I wrote to you and said that I would be loathe to overturn an election. Could have been weeks. Time seems to be moving rather quickly. Now I don't see it as overturning an election but just getting someone unfit out of office. I don't mean unfit as in racist or any other "ist". Those are undesirable qualities but not enough to remove someone legally from office. I mean he's not mentally competent. I would just be surprised if those conversations weren't happening. Very quietly.

Those would seem to be necessary conversations, at this point. But I know of no leaks about anything of the sort thus far.

How much worse does it have to get before things start getting better? Or do things not get better?

We've already blown past nadir after nadir and must be nearing the center of the Earth at this point.

Trump won't do anything till the August recess. Then he'll fire Sessions, make a recess appointment and have Mueller fired. THAT'S why they're rushing the health care vote. So Congress gets out of town. How can we get Congress to do something about this?

No one could stop Nixon from firing Archibald Cox, and I don't think anyone can stop Trump from firing Robert Mueller if he so chooses. The question is what Republicans in Congress will do if and when that happens. 

Just when I think I can't be any more embarrassed by the president of the United States, he goes and does something boneheaded like his speech to the Boy Scouts. I'm pretty much out of words to express my outrage. My real question is about Kushner and Trump Jr. talking to the congressional committees without being required to speak under oath. Is that the usual practice? The way these people lie at the drop of a hat, it would seem to me to render their comments useless.

Totally with you on the abhorrent speech to the Boy Scouts. As for the congressional testimony, I agree that it's best to put such witnesses under oath -- it concentrates the mind. But it's still a crime to lie to Congress, whether or not you have raised your right hand.

Regardless of the incompetency in the WH, it still doesn't change the GOP mantra that they are "pro you" and Dems are "pro them". While inaccurate, it still reflects how the Republicans are effective in driving their vote. Dems policies are sound, but they don't resonate with the individual. That and the spin on the social issues which has minimal upside (i.e. Marriage equality - 1/2 GOP don't care, 1/2 GOP are upset - only downside) is a difficult force to be against.

Let's keep in perspective, however, the fact that the GOP lost the popular vote last year for the sixth time in the  last seven presidential elections. So the Democratic Party is connecting with somebody -- a lot of somebodies, in fact. The party has to do better in state, local and midterm elections. That's partly a matter of policy and affinity, but also partly a matter of organization and hard work.

Looking at the first 6 months...maybe Trump really isn't a very good deal maker.

Clearly he's not.

I completely agree with your "go big or go home" message. Dems certainly seem meek and almost wishy-washy about their platform. That said, I think a bigger problem is who is speaking for them. I'm sorry, but they need younger, more appealing voices. Someone like Macron or Trudeau, and it should be a man. I'm a woman and I love to see women in leadership but right now I think having Nancy Pelosi (or even Warren) is a mistake.

Macron and Trudeau are otherwise occupied, so it can't be either of them. But I get your point. I think the younger leadership you seek has to emerge. I don't think it can be anointed.

Imagine if the response to Trump's insane nonsense that he was barking out yesterday was met with cold, stony and awkward silence. I still have a sliver of faith that his celebrity status will wear off and someday we will see such a thing. THAT is what will cause the downfall; when people stop giving him adulation.

The thing is, it's possible to just shut out the incoherent rantings of a reality tv star, but not those of the president of the United States. He is commander in chief and head of state. 

Gene. The Dems still don't get it. The primary reason they lost the 2016 can be found where they lost it - in rural North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This is hunting territory, full of firearms enthusiasts. It was Second Amendment advocates - fearful for the future after the loss of Justice Scalia - who delivered the knockout blow to Hillary in the ballot box. How do I know? Because I have personally lived in four of those states. Until the Democrats give up their "war on guns" (the need for which they can't seem to grasp, sitting in their coastal enclaves and listening only to themselves) they have no hope whatsoever of regaining control of Congress. Not the chance of a snowball in a cyclotron.

Democrats have favored sensible gun control for a long time and have controlled both houses of Congress as recently as 2010. I think the gun issue is a factor, don't get me wrong, but it's not insuperable. And by the way, I get my back up a bit when people talk about "coastal enclaves" as if voters who live near an ocean are somehow apart from the country. We are "real Americans" too.

Trump's behavior is always put in the context of other presidents, but how does he compare to other Authoritarians from history?

He reminds me a bit of Juan Peron of Argentina. Actually, kind of a combination between Juan Peron and Evita. All he needs is a balcony.

Are we now inducting our youth into partisan politics? I think Hitler tried that. The Boy Scouts of America need to apologize.

The Scouts did put out a statement emphasizing the organization's non-partisan nature. The president is, by tradition, always invited to the Jamboree. It's just that no president has ever given such a hideous speech.

1st of all- THANK YOU for your work and dedication to our democracy! Saw MSNBC this AM- Agree with you & Donnie about this is Trump's "last stand". It needs to be stated, and pitied by some, that this is the end of the Trump empire. Regardless of how investigations turn out, from this point forward his business dealings are doomed. Everyone has seen his poker hand and knows how truth does not exist in his world. Makes for a weak deal regardless of the subject at hand. His presidency is long gone. The only thing left is his life, his empire, his family, and his money, the latter being questionable if debt is considered his wealth. It really is a sad story of a man who is being done in by his arrogance, greed and megalomania. He is a cornered and wounded animal, the most dangerous of all now. Keep your wits about you and keep up the great work for our country. Thank you for your time, Ron Madsen - Kansas

Thanks, Mr. Madsen! Let your members of Congress know how you feel about this presidency.

In one 20-year stretch of grace, Texas sent Barbara Jordan to Congress, elected Ann Richards as governor, and got to read Molly Ivins columns regularly. They left an oral and written record that the Democratic Party would do well to use as a primer for what it actually means to say something when you speak and write. Beyond that, what do you think about asking the five politicians pictured in the Better Deal roll-out (plus Joe Biden) to step aside and turn over the microphone to Democrats who tend to speak in direct statements? Kamala Harris and Al Franken would seem to be a good start. Who are the others whose time has come in your estimation?

I wish Barbara, Ann and Molly could be cloned. That not being possible, I believe new progressive leadership has to emerge. Let's see if Harris and others grow into leadership roles.

First let me say your an inspiration and I love reading your column... how can the president ethically fire sessions or have him openings a investigation on Clinton just because the president says so?

Thanks for the nice words. You point out something that hasn't received enough comment and censure. It's not just that Trump viciously went after his own attorney general, it's that he did so because the A.G. has ignored Trump's calls for a politically motivated "investigation" -- really, a persecution -- of Hillary Clinton. That is outrageous and completely alien to American democracy.

Thank you again for another insightful piece today. I want to push back a little on one of your statements, however. You state, “Of course, the slogan is less important than the policies behind it”. I hang around with a bunch of academic scientists and substance is everything to us. But many voters, especially the ones we are going to need to purge the swamp, are relatively low information voters who for various (probably valid) reasons are not policy wonks. Thus, I would argue that unless democrats can come up with some really catchy slogans, no amount of policy substance will matter. Policy alone won’t be enough to bring out the base and swing voters in the numbers needed to overcome existing barriers like Gerrymandering etc in future elections. Democrats need better slogans (hint: what works in California and NYC may not work in Iowa or Texas) to elicit a broad visceral emotional response backed up by solid policies that the American support.

We're in total agreement. The substance is by definition more important than the label, or the slogan. But I have been on record for years complaining that the Democratic Party fails to understand how important sloganeering is. The GOP gets it. During the fight to pass the ACA, I made this complaint to members of President Obama's communications team. (How did they let that nonsense about "death panels" take hold?) Slogans need to appeal more to emotion than to reason. There's nothing dishonorable about coming up with an impactful way to get your point across, as long as you don't lie.

Totally agree, Gene, re. his speech. It was beyond inappropriate and bizarre. My son is an 11yo Boy Scout, also at camp (a different one) this week. I really want to see how the BSA handle this. On my end, I'll just try to use it as a learning tool with my son, but I feel badly for the boys whose parents just buy into what Trump said and don't see anything wrong with it...

I understand there has been a big response from parents, including many who might agree with the president's policies but still found the speech appalling.

Does the solidity of the Trump base surprise you? If not, why?

Not really. He's been in office only for six months. I'm not surprised that those who enthusiastically voted for him are willing to give him more time. 

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe senators are expected to act with civility toward another or face censure. What will it take for Congress to censure Trump for his outrageous behavior that debases the office he holds?

At this point, I'm tempted to say "Democratic majorities."

Why would anyone want to work for Trump these days when he'll turn on you in a second, like he has for Sessions and Spicer? Even this new "Mooch" guy has to realize he could get on Trump's bad side at any moment.

That is why many qualified candidates for White House jobs have said no when approached.

So how do we stimulate a real discussion among the general population to move to different political 'system' entirely? Get rid of Rep v. Dem, and create a few new 'parties' that perhaps take different views & positions, but are able to work together?

Our two-arty system has proved remarkably resilient, but it's not eternal. I think we're undergoing a political realignment, and either the parties will adapt or they will fade away.


And now it's time for me to fade away, folks -- just for a week. Our time is up for today. Thanks for participating, and I'll see you next time!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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