Eugene Robinson Live (August 22)

Eugene Robinson
Aug 22, 2017

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

Read Eugene's latest: It's time to talk about Trump's mental health

Hi, everyone, and welcome to our weekly chat. And what a week it has been, with the fallout from Charlottesville, the defenestration of Steve Bannon, President Trump's various lunacies, the announcement that we'll be fighting the Afghanistan War indefinitely, and, oh yes, a total eclipse of the sun (not of the heart, I hope). It's total overload, but we'll manage. Let's do this.

Why haven't Republicans stepped up to address Trump's peculiar behavior?

My column today attempts to tackle the issue of President Trump's mental health, which we need to talk about. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) went there last week, questioning the president's stability and competence. Other Republicans whisper and mumble about it but haven't said anything publicly. They should speak up. Seriously.

Yeah, Trump is nuts. Flat out nuts. Not as elegant as what you wrote but fewer words. Even with Trump I still worry about Democrats and the next election . Republicans can campaign but not govern. Democrats can govern but can't campaign. What are Democrats doing? It's can be difficult to find political info that is not related to Trump.

One recent Democrat, Barack Obama, was spectacularly good at campaigning -- so good, in fact, that the party neglected the grassroots work it should have been doing. There's no reason why Democrats can't come up with a strong message (Bernie Sanders has some ideas) and a charismatic messenger. But along the way, they need to reintroduce themselves to Americans who feel the party has been ignoring them.

I think one big hindrance to "Washington" operating effectively is the 40 yearwar on "Government" (always said contemptuously). Eugene, how can we have effective policies when the tool of a government agency is always resisted by Republicans? In many cases - social security is an example - a government agency works much more efficiently than a private corporation. There is more accountability. Etc. It's not always the case that a government agency is appropriate, but the war on government by Republicans (who are all too anxious to get into it) has, I think, really hurt our future.

"Government" in the abstract is an easy target. Republicans use government as a straw man -- "We'll cut the other person's entitlements but not yours." That's dishonest, but it has been effective. Democrats have not found a really effective counter-move. Attacking "business" doesn't work as well. "Inequality" is a better target, but I think it should be renamed "Opportunity," which is what everyone deserves.

President Trump's responses to the Charlottesville tragedy were about as incoherent as I have ever seen him. That being said, his insistence that there was violence on both sides was fairly accurate. While most of the counter-protesters were peaceful, there was one bloc that came ready to rumble. I am referring, of course, to Antifa. That movement claims to be anti-fascist, but these people are fascistic to the core. Their modus operandi is to shut down conservative speakers, destroy property, and beat up anybody who disagrees with them. That happened in Charlottesville, and it happened one week later in Boston. Neo-Nazis and their ilk are like a Stage 4 cancer on the body. Antifa is a Stage 1 cancer. If left untreated, either of these cancers will kill. Journalists have been insisting that Republicans and their supporters condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists, which they have done. Shouldn't you and your colleagues in the Democratic party be held to the same standard with regards to Antifa?

The Post and other news outlets have all done stories on Antifa. I support their aims but deplore their tactics. That said, it has to be made clear that Antifa did not kill Heather Heyer. A Nazi did.

Why don't reporters flat out ask Trump whether he believes in white supremacy, or whether immigrants are a threat to American culture? Not unlike the epic scene in A Few Good Men, I think he wants to say 'Yes!!' I think he is dying to let it out. Has he even commented on the covers of the Economist or the New Yorker?

It would be great if one of the White House reporters asked that direct question. Who knows what he might say?

If all war related operations were returned to the US military, ending all contractor and mercenary services.... And if the draft were reinstated with ALL politicians' family members of eligible age placed at the head of the line for military service - no exceptions, no deferments..... Would that make military adventurism and endless war a little less likely for the United States? Would they finally think twice about going to war?

Yes, but those things are not going to happen. Nor do I expect Congress to assert its Constitutional prerogative to decide when and whether to declare war. As far as I can tell, all that President Trump did was to ensure that the war in Afghanistan will grind on for many years to come. And by encouraging India to play a more active role in Afghanistan, he ensured that Pakistan will continue supporting the Taliban as a counterweight.

What do you like about our president?

When he was campaigning, I wrote that I liked his promise to curb U.S. military intervention overseas (he has ramped up intervention in six countries thus far) and to secure health care "for everybody" (he supported legislation that was much closer to health care "for nobody"). So there's not much left for me to like, I'm afraid.

In today's column, you noted that psychologists and psychiatrists are restricted by ethical guidelines from diagnosing the president. Those guidelines, however, do not restrict us from noting his alarming behavior patterns and, based on research and clinical experience, dangerous actions they foretell. Indeed, a number of professionals have pointed out the very alarming pattern of his behavior: • Abusive and threatening (“beat the crap out of him,” offering to pay legal fees of those who attacked anti-Trump demonstrators at his rallies) • Combative (setting a redline for Robert Mueller’s investigations into Russia’s election meddling) • Sadistic (the willful humiliating actions towards his own associates, Spicer, Priebus, Sessions; the president’s reported enjoyment of infighting among his colleagues; Mrs. Trump’s “When he gets hit, he hits back 10 times harder”) • Self absorbed (his gratuitous references to himself in his speech on Afghanistan; his pre-occupation with Secretary Clinton’s popular vote and the size of his inaugural crowd). A raft of research and clinical experience teaches that abusive, combative, and sadistic behavior, combined with a self-absorption that ignores consequences for others, often predict dangerous violence. In a president, the danger may extend far beyond individual victims to global calamity. All these issues are detailed at length in a forthcoming book from Macmillan, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Professionals Assess a President, edited by Dr. Bandy X. Lee of Yale. As the book makes clear, the diagnosis is irrelevant. But the palpable patterns of alarming behavior compel action. The Constitution provides for removing a president who is unable to discharge the duties of office. President Trump is clearly unable to carry his awesome responsibility to protect us, but instead is putting the world at risk of his predilections. The time has come for the Congress, Vice President and Cabinet to take the steps the Constitution provides to end this dangerous presidency. Respectfully, Edwin B. Fisher, Ph.D., Professor of Health Behavior, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Thank you, Prof. Fisher. I look forward to reading the book!

Is it possible that all this could be lead to something good? Slavery is the poison pill at the heart of America's birth. As a nation, we have never dealt with this issue as Germany did with Nazism in the wake of WWII. Or South Africa did with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Our nation has avoided a true reckoning on this. The advent of Trump might have forced our hand. The only way this conversation can be had is with full participation - something the GOP has avoided until now. The GOP controls the WH, both chambers of Congress, the Dept. of Justice, and most state governorships/legislatures. There's nowhere to hide. If Democrats led the way, it would be dismissed by Republicans. But if Republicans are forced to lead on this issue, confront it, maybe we may finally be on our way to dealing with this for the first time in 241 years.

I hope your optimistic view is correct. And I note that in my home state, South Carolina, it took a Republican governor -- Nikki Haley -- to finally get rid of the Confederate battle flag that flew at the statehouse. That flag was first flown there not right after the Civil War, but in 1960 or 1961 -- as a kind of middle finger toward the federal government and its mandate for desegregation. But Haley acted only after the horrible Charleston massacre. We shouldn't need such tragedy to come to terms with our history.

No matter what happens in the next 3-1/2 years, this nation has got to make sure someone as unfit as Trump never reaches the White House again. Practically speaking, who/what can do that, and how?

The traditional gatekeepers -- political parties and the media -- are going to have to raise their game and learn how to function in the era of social media. This time they got crushed.

What is Trump's reaction when Bannon attacks Ivanka, Jared or even Trump himself?

On one level, Trump obviously likes having warring factions around him. But we'll see how nasty it gets now that Bannon is back at Breitbart. Trump fears Breitbart much more than he fears, say, The Washington Post.

It saddens me too see some past the point of hope. You sir are one of those people. People like you are the kind of people who are just out to get trump because your sad and under qualified presidential candidate did not win. You need to look at trump and see what a change has happened in this country. The economy has boomed people have jobs and more jobs are coming to America and year one is not even over. in the eight years we had Obama we did nothing except fail and unemployment rates were raised and national security became Almost non existent you do not even know the half of what goes on in Washington so get off the high horse your on and look at the facts.

Sigh. Job creation under Trump is slower than it was under Obama. It was Obama who cut unemployment from above 10 percent to less than 5 percent. Economic growth is about the same, maybe a little lower, under Trump. It's fine if you believe in Trump but you can't believe in your "alternative facts," because they are simply not true. 

HI Gene -- thanks for your recent column and for chatting today. Like you, I'm no psychiatrist, but even if there isn't more going on with Trump mental health wise, I'm continually struck by just how, well, negative he is. Always angry, always scowling, he looks like a very unhappy man. In the past we've always counted on our presidents to project positivity, even in the darkest times, and whether you agreed with them or not, most were able to pull that off to some degree. But with Trump, as often has been said, it's not normal. The base might love that constant chip on the shoulder approach, but I think it's damaging to both the country and the institution of the presidency.

I think this is, in part, intentional. I recall that during the campaign he kept rejecting a photo (maybe fore the campaign website?) because he wanted to be seem with a more Churchillian scowl. At least sometimes, though, the anger seems completely genuine -- as when he delivered his red-faced rant last Tuesday about Charlottesville.

Paul Ryan wants to get past the passions of the moment - AKA neo-nazis, white supremacists -- as if they are fleeting issues. Will any Republicans get beyond public statements to take real action toward this unstable, dangerous presidency?

Apparently Ryan won't. But if Trump continues attacking GOP senators, he may face an uprising.

I keep wondering if they're the counterparts to Al Haig and a few others who held the White House together while Nixon was mentally disintegrating during the final weeks and months of Watergate. Not that I was a fan of Haig et al., but without them the situation would've been even worse. Who do you think would be our latter-day Goldwater, i.e., someone so influential upon the President that he could convince him it was time to pack up and leave the White House?

I do believe the generals are a moderating influence, but this isn't the way our government is supposed to work. We're supposed to have civilian control of the military. But we are where we are.

Do you agree with Tucker Carlson that Trump's staring at the eclipse without protective eyewear was "the most impressive thing any President has done? Maybe he meant it was the most "impressive" thing that THIS President has done. What would you say are his "accomplishments" so far?

I think Tucker was attempting a joke. I think. President Trump managed to get Neil Gorsuch onto the Supreme Court. That's about it, in terms of achievements.

Trump supporters heard him denounce white supremacists, Nazis and the man who killed Heather Heyer. Then they heard the media say that he did not denounce. Do you think they'll believe their own ears or the media?

Did those ears also hear Trump take it back by saying there were "very fine people" among the Nazis and Klansmen and and putting them on the same moral plane with the counter-demonstrators? Did those ears hear virtually everyone in Trump's own party denounce the president's remarks? 

During the campaign, I liked that he stressed the need to invest in national infrastructure; I hoped that would be one of his immediate priorities upon taking office, in order to help heal and unite our nation. (Heck, even Chuck Schumer was indicating support for Trump action on infrastructure). Now that Trump finally got around to mentioning it last Tuesday, he promptly stepped all over his message a few minutes later with his vile comments on Charlottesville.

Not only did he obliterate the infrastructure message, he again failed to come out with the kind of robust infrastructure plan he promised during the campaign. You would think that the one thing he might know how to do is build stuff, but apparently not.

Bob Muller isn't the only one closing in on Trump. He can't go out in public (Kennedy Awards, Correspondent's Dinner, the opening of MLB) and who knows when he will do a press conference. That has to be affecting his psyche. Maybe that's why he holds these rallies (West Va. and AZ). I think he would welcome a way out with dignity, for example, if he had to divest of his business interests etc. Do you think that's possible?

I think any president would be bothered by being persona non grata at these ceremonial events. By the same token, I think it would be hard for any president to resign, knowing that history would see him as a failure. 

Can you understand that conservatives didn't find much to like about what Obama said (just as you don't find much to like about what Trump said)?

Yes, I understand that. My objection about Trump is not mostly about ideology. If, say, Mike Pence were president, I'd be opposing his initiatives on ideological grounds, just as conservatives opposed Obama's. But with Trump I worry deeply about his stability and competence (to quote Sen. Corker) and the implications of living with a dysfunctional presidency.

Joe Scarborough's brother is a conservative. Is he automatically a white supremacist racist?

Um, no. I certainly haven't conflated the two, and I'm not aware of anyone who has. 

If the President had unequivocally condemned white supremacists, right out of the gates, he would have had space later to condemn violence, no matter who commits it. There is a serious problem with comparing neo-Nazis and anti-fascists. The former stand for genocide. Does this really have to be explained?


Why didn't Democrats get rid of the statues when they had the House and Senate and Obama was president?

The statues weren't a big issue then. Issues arise when they arise. Timing matters.


And our time is up for today, folks. thanks for a very lively discussion, and please come back for another round 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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