Eugene Robinson Live (August 15)

Eugene Robinson
Aug 15, 2017

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

Read Eugene's latest: Trump's response to Charlottesville should surprise no one

Hi everybody. Welcome to our weekly discussion. What more is there to say about Charlottesville? A lot, probably. President Trump doesn't have much to say about it, but that's because it's so hard for him to name and denounce the white-nationalist extremists who caused the tragedy. He managed to choke out condemnation of the Klan and the Nazis yesterday. Was it that hard, President Trump? Let's get started.

How do you think that the white supremacists who demonstrated in Trump's name in Charlottesville feel about him finally condemning what they stand for? Do they feel betrayed, or do they think he was forced into it by the "wrong people" in the White house, and still feel he speak for them?

My guess is that they'll feel he did -- minimally -- what he was compelled to do, in reading that second statement yesterday. But I think they feel Charlottesville was, on balance, a boost for the white-nationalist movement. And they must be pleased there were so many young people participating.

Is it time for the GOP to retire their party of Lincoln reference once and for all? It is not just about Trump and Charlottesville, although the contrast between his words and President Obama's leadership in Charleston is staggering. It is not just about Nixon and the GOP's 1968 southern strategy. Even Ronald Reagan, the shining light of the GOP, the great communicator, went to the Neshoba County Fair in 1980 and gave a campaign speech about states rights. He never mentioned civil rights. He never acknowledged Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. Republicans don't seem to hesitate to 'go there' whenever it suits their party over country world.

The racial component of the GOP's "Southern strategy" is something that's not talked about openly, at least since Lee Atwater died. But it has been there since 1968. Not that every Southern Republican is a racist, of course. I'm not saying that. I'm saying there has been a component of white racial grievance in Republican campaigns for the last half-century -- and that they would't continue it if they didn't think somebody was responding.

Hi Gene -- Thanks for your recent column and for taking questions today. It's hard to know where to begin when thinking about what's been happening these past few days, but I keep coming back to something you've raised perhaps more than once now. What is going in the WH? Does anyone have any impact on this man? Ivanka and Jared, you can tweet to your heart's content to try to clean up daddy’s messes and set up shop at a matching desk across from him in the Oval Office and sit there with him 24/7 and it's not going to make one bit of difference. You can change communication directors on a weekly basis and rotate chiefs of staff in and out with the moon and the tides and nothing will change. Those surrounding him, trying to steer this train wreck: next to useless. This is what we have, and it's shameful and embarrassing and tragic. There, therapy session completed, and thanks as always.

The question of whatever happened to the "moderating" forces in the White House -- Ivanka, Jared, a few others -- remains unanswered. I don't see any impact. Perhaps the most powerful moderating force, in my view, is Melania Trump. I'm starting to think she may be the brightest bulb in the White House.

That's exactly how Trump acted on Monday.

One dead giveaway was the way he acted afterwards. First he tweeted a blast at us -- the "enemy" media -- saying that nothing he says will ever be enough as far as we're concerned. Then he told a Fox interviewer that he's thinking about pardoning Joe Arpaio, just convicted of contempt of federal court and recently perhaps the most racist lawman in the country. That doesn't look much like contrition. It looks like defiance, and I'm sure the white-nationalists are watching and listening.

Perhaps his equivalent of LBJ and the Vietnam War losing Walter Cronkite?

Now that people can exclusively read and watch news media that agree with them, there's no equivalent of Cronkite. So I guess the thing to watch is whether Trump loses Matt Drudge, who seems to be wavering at times, or even Fox and Friends. (He'll never lose Hannity, who is determined to go down with the ship.)

Why does the media keep expecting Trump to be "Presidential"? He isn't and he'll never be. Can't we just keep harping on how he's ruining the country? It will already take decades to repair the damage he's done to both the country as a whole and the operations of the government specifically in just six months.

I don't know who, at this point, expects President Trump to be "presidential" in any conventional way. But the nation does have the right to expect him to do the right and decent thing at moments of national sorrow or crisis -- even if he does it in his own idiosyncratic way.

By letting two days pass and reading remarks off a teleprompter someone else wrote it seems to me that Trump was winking to the racists who support him. They must surely see this as something he was forced to do but doesn't mean and that he still values their support. If Trump had been outraged he would have done what is in character for him: to send out a tweet quickly and impulsively that he obviously did not take the time to proof read because it would have been filled with his standard grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. I would have preferred he not address this at all if he could not react immediately and sincerely from the heart. With his shrinking support, it seems clear that he would not want to alienate his most loyal base.

The president's political strategy is to keep his loyal base, no matter what. So far, he's done that fairly well. But if you look at the approval polling, he's on a gradual slide -- and at some point, at this rate, he will reach a point of no return. I don't know whether he realizes this, but it's pretty clear from the numbers.

How the heck do people in other countries live with this level of chaos and zero ethics from the top all the time? I once was treated in a way that mimics what I imagine African Americans face all the time. I was in a souvenir shop in a touristy area late at night and an employee decided I must be there to steal things. He didn't just follow me around, he stood in between me and the merchandise. I said excuse me and moved over a bit and he shifted so he blocked me again. And again. I lost it. Nearly completely. I have never in my life been so close to physically attacking someone. I screamed. I threatened. I'm pretty sure the words, "Do you know who I am," came out of my mouth. (I was a very junior associate at a NY law firm at the time.) The next day I was physically ill all day from the adrenalin withdrawal. And I realized that while I might have gained some small insight about what it feels like to be treated that way, I would NEVER know what it is like to live my whole life being treated like that constantly. Well, we in the US are getting some small insight about what it is like to live in a country of men, not laws. But we will not know what it is like for that to happen all the time. For that to be the default. If nothing else, this has to be over in another 7 1/2 years. It will probably be over sooner than that. How do YOU get through every day? How do people in Russia or Venezuela or North Korea or any other of a number of places get through every day?

That's an excellent question. I lived for four years in Argentina, right after that country had returned to democracy from a decade under a brutal military dictatorship. I covered all of South America, where almost every country was accustomed to similar political upheaval. The answer is that people go about their lives, but with contingency plans. A lot of people kept a store of cash -- "revolution money," my bureau assistant called it -- in their homes. Every institution was suspect, including the courts and much of the media, because of the chance they could be corrupt. Even when the economy was doing well it was difficult for businesses to make long-term plans, because you never knew what the next president or congress would do -- or whom they would be beholden to. There was a tenuousness to daily life that we in this country are not accustomed to. People got used to it -- but they wanted to live in a "normal" country, and they pointed to the United States as an example. Seems like a long time ago.

Mr. Robinson, What is your view on the majority of American Manufacturing Council members and other Fortune 500 CEOs remaining silent and and failing to publicly support Kenneth Frazier in his decision to call out the inadequate response of the Trump administration with regards to the Charlottesville riot and the President's personal tweet attacks on Frazier? I'm left with the impression that many of these so-called titans of business have the spine of a jellyfish and are not willing to do anything to jeopardize their stock options/incentive comp by taking a public stand against this administration when Trump's behavior and first response to Charlottesville definitely calls for it.

I believe three other executives have withdrawn from the council today. So stay tuned.

He diluted the impact of his read-aloud statement by also tweeting several dog-whistle messages the same day, as well as letting it be known he's seriously considering pardoning Joe Arpaio. His base therefore knows not to take his Charlottesville message seriously.

Exactly.

Whay are your thoughts on how twitter folks have been on a campaign to "out" all who participated? Several have already lost their jobs, does that violate their civil rights? p.s I'm not a sympathizer just curious.

I believe that if you participate in a Nazi march, or any public demonstration, you should be prepared to have your photograph taken and disseminated. I'm really not certain of all the legal ins and outs of firing someone for that reason. I do know that a labor union contract might well protect someone's job in that circumstance, so maybe there ought to be more widespread support for unions.

As a 60-year-old Anglo, I honestly am. At the backlash over our first African-American president, the double-standards our first female presidential candidate from a major party faced and how many racists remain among us, including friends and family members. The latter of which in my case managed to keep these tendencies hidden until emboldened by Trump. This week I thought they would keep their opinions to themselves. Not so. Facebook posts question why Trump is expected to denounce white racism and terrorism while Obama, they claim, never did the same against blacks. Prior to his too late, insincere denouncement, I read statements of praise for Trump not speaking out. Another compared Wikipedia entries defining Asian, black and gay pride in benign terms while white pride connotes racism. That stirred up all of those who feel discriminated against because they are white. Had they not been emboldened by Trump, I otherwise would have had no idea how these friends and family members feel. Two of them aren't even Anglo-Saxon. One is second generation Greek and the other second generation Italian, whose parents and grandparents most likely faced racism when the first came to this country.

I believe that increasing numbers of white Americans feel threatened because of demographics and a changing economy. I have to think we'll make it through this phase, but it will be a bumpy ride.

Isn't it alarming that these Neo-Nazis and White terrorists are so young. Weren't they supposed to be angry old white- men? Where is this hatred coming from?

That's the million-dollar question, isn't it? We in the media need to do more reporting on that. If the march had just been David Duke and a bunch of old guys, that's one thing. But where are young kids getting all this rage from?

The New York Times reporter on the ground in Charlottesville said that the hard left seemed as hate filled as the alt right and were also violent. Shouldn't this be included in the coverage?

I think it has been included in the coverage. You'd be hearing more about it if one of the counterprotesters had used a car to mow down Nazi demonstrators, but that's not what happened.

With the nuclear threats and overt racism-- does it feel a bit like a return to the 1960s?

Not exactly. History doesn't repeat, but it does rhyme (as someone, I can't remember who, once said). The general feeling of tumult is similar. But Vietnam, the assassinations, the urban riots, the rise of the counterculture... maybe this is just my generational chauvinism, but those felt bigger and more destabilizing. Then again, let's stay tuned and see how this episode turns out.

In light of the president's recent erratic childish behavior, do you think Congress has the stomach to, at the very least, censure the president to send a message? Even a child's inappropriate behavior has consequences, why not the prez?

I kind of doubt President Trump would pay any attention to a formal censure. To him, it would be just like a critical tweet. Fake news!

For almost my entire life Republicans have been the party of personal responsibility, pull yourself up by your boot straps. All this rural white pity me I'm the poor victim is just hogwash in my view. Your job up and left you? Do something about it, retrain, move, go back to school. Count me as a coastal elite who is just sick and tired of hearing the woe is me stories from fly over country. I've had my share of setbacks, problems with life and jobs are not based on geography.

I have more sympathy for people who see a town's livelihood disappear, but it does not help them to pretend that the steel mill or the coal mine or the electronics plant is magically going to return. It isn't.  Government can and should help such communities adapt to new realities.

Gordon Chang (Daily Beast) says that Trump is right to use strong language re N Korea and that it should be even stronger. Your thoughts?

Trump's language doesn't matter, unless he says something so over-the-top that the North Koreans actually believe he's about to launch some kind of preemptive attack -- which would make them consider their own preemptive attack on S. Korea and Japan. No matter what Trump says, North Korea is not going to give up its nukes and its missiles -- not this North Korean government, anyway. Kim sees his nuclear capacity as the ultimate insurance policy, and he's right. The U.S. is no longer in the business of prevention, it's in the business of deterrence.

Trump supporters say that he's the only one who listened to their concerns and gave voice to them (adding that the media ignored or dismissed them). Do you think the media is doing that again?

Lord, no. At this point, "mainstream media" outlets have done so many stories about the wants, needs, and inner lives of Trump voters that it seems we've interviewed every single one individually. Trump voters are not going uncovered.

 

That's it for today, folks. My time is up. See you again next week!

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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