Eugene Robinson Live (August 29)

Eugene Robinson
Aug 29, 2017

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

Read Eugene's latest: Hurricane Harvey previews our stormy future

Hello, everyone. Welcome once more to our weekly discussion. There are some intriguing new developments in the Russia-Trump story; and North Korea fired a missile across Japan, which is insanely provocative; and since we last met, members of the president's cabinet -- Tillerson, Mattis -- seem to be disowning him, or at least his craziness. But my attention today has been riveted by the unfolding tragedy in Houston. Is climate change responsible? My column this morning asks how many 100-year storms and 1000-year floods do we need to  convince us of the obvious? This will happen again and again -- in Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Miami, Jacksonville... Global warming increases a storm's rainfall. Global warming has raised sea levels, which increases storm surge. We need to get serious, now, about mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (dealing with the warming that has already been set in motion). The fourth-largest city in the nation is now a lake. Tragic. Let's get started.

A large number of Republicans voted NO on Sandy relief. But that was blue states suffering and a Democrat in the White House. Now it is a red state devastated and a Republican administration. How many of these "principled" conservatives concerned about big government and rising government debt will vote NO now?

A few extreme ideologues in the House may vote against aid. No Republicans in the Senate will vote against it. This is likely to be the costliest disaster in U.S. history, and the federal government is going to have to step up.

Great column this week. I don't expect climate change deniers in Washington to ever admit that they were wrong, but do you think they will ever take action to mitigate its effects? Or would that be too much like admitting error?

Unfortunately, it takes terrible events like those unfolding in Houston to make some people see what's right in front of their faces. Look, Houston is the center of the petrochemicals industry in this country. Something has to be done to protect the city, regardless of ideology.

Among the many things that puzzle me about where we are as a nation politically is Trump’s almost unwavering support among Republicans. Now I get the whole tribe mentality and all that but for the life of me, when I read reliably conservative writers like David Brooks, Michael Gerson, Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, David Frum write column after column about how awful this guy is, how is it that the vast majority of Republicans stick with him? The crazy, awful, stupid stuff he does makes no difference. I’d bet if you asked his supporters if they would want him to run their company, or date their daughter or in some way be a part of their lives they’d say no way yet they’re okay with a narcissistic, misogynist, dishonest carnival barker as president. I just don’t get it. Do you?

Yesterday a GOP member of Congress was quoted as telling his constituents, regarding Trump, "He's a jerk but he's OUR jerk." Except he didn't say "jerk," he said a word that editors always taught me was not suitable for a family newspaper. I think tribalism has a lot to do with it. Plus the hope -- fading, by now -- that he will be able to enact an orthodox GOP agenda. Plus, the Supreme Court.

Today I read this in MarketWatch: "Massive Finnish pension fund unloads U.S. stocks because... Donald Trump". And this from Bloomberg: "No President in the U.S.' Leads $53 Billion Fund to Sell Stocks". How likely is this to be a trend by foreign investors?

If you think about it, why wouldn't foreign investors take leadership into account when deciding where to park their dollars? Note that I said dollars, which remain the world's reserve currency. As long as this is the case, I don't foresee any panicked flight. But yes a trickle, maybe a stream.

I was fresh out of college when Nixon resigned. I remember a slow build and then things falling apart very quickly. With members of Trump's cabinet openly distancing themselves from him, do you think we are at a tipping point now?

Oh, no you'don't. No way you're going to get me into the "predicting a Trump tipping point" business. That's an activity with, so far, a 100 percent failure rate.

We should use federal tax dollars to help the residents in Houston and the nearby towns devastated by this storm. We should also add some carrot and stick provisions. First, we should fully fund the remaining Hurricane Sandy initiatives. Some of these were long-term projects to stop future floods. Next, we should penalize the state of Texas for not planning better. Maybe withhold other federal monies for every day that the state does not come up with a workable plan to address future storms and possible shelter/evacuations. And why does a state the size of Texas (24+ million) only have 12,000 National Guard troops?

I don't like the idea of punishing Texas for what it hasn't done up to now. But the clock starts ticking. Houston needs better protection and better drainage. There are various ways to accomplish these goals, all of them quite expensive. But weigh the costs against what it costs to clean up after a Harvey-level disaster. And it's not just Houston that needs protection. We're talking about every coastal city, all the way up to New York. Remember Sandy?

It's a statement on your recent column covering Donald Trump's mental health. Your talking about the President of the United States and your comments are disgusting as is the one sided reporting of your newspaper. Engage brain before starting comments like these, Thank you! No response is required!!

Oh, but you do get a response. That column was written after a prominent Republican U.S. senator (who voted with President Trump on health care and virtually everything else) publicly questioned the president's "stability." And you should hear what members of Congress say off-the-record. Fortunately we live in a country where the people are sovereign, not the president.

Mr. Robinson, No need to state that, "I am not professionally qualified to assess the president’s mental health." One need not hold a doctorate in Economics to form an opinion about a president's economic and tax policies. One need not hold a doctorate in National Security Studies to form an opinion about a president's national security policies. And one need not hold a doctorate in Psychiatry to form an opinion about a president's mental fitness. The 25th Amendment makes no mention of psychiatrists or the National Association of Psychiatry; it gives members of the Cabinet and the Congress, lay-persons in the realm of psychiatry, power to declare a president mentally unfit. As citizens, we have a responsibility to come to conclusions about the mountain of empirical evidence that Donald Trump is mentally unwell and, therefore, unfit to "discharge the powers and duties of his office ..." Gordon Humphrey, former U.S. Senator New Hampshire

Thanks so much, senator. And of course you're right.

Thanks for taking our questions and "listening to our kvetches." I'm over the top disgusted with our "president's" visit to Texas. It's a cynical, detached appearance to make him seem presidential when he has already taken steps to put us even more in harms way. His rolling back of Obama-era rules protecting infrastructure from future flooding and pulling us out of the Paris Accords go to show he doesn't understand that actions will have deep consequences.

I agree totally with your final sentence -- yes, his decision to rescind the Obama executive order mandating anti-flood measures for structures built with federal funds,and his decision to pull out of the Paris agreement were terrible moves that will have horrible, predictable consequences. That said, I'm not upset with Trump's decision to go to Texas, as long as he stays out of the way of first responders in the hard-hit areas. We've learned from recent experience that presidents are damned if they go (to a disaster) and damned if they don't. 

Hi Eugene -- thanks for taking questions today. This question came up in Amber's chat and I'd be curious to know your take on it. Natural disasters have long been treacherous ground for presidents, with some presidents rising to the occasion, but often not, with devastating political results (see: Bush, 2005, Katrina). In the case of Trump, the bar will be low, but how low? Can he really be other centered, empathetic, not tweet, and not make it about himself and how much he won Texas by?

As you said, the bar is really low. Let's wait until the rivers crest before making predictions.

Hi Gene, First, I love your columns and your appearances on MSNBC! Now on to the question. Michael Moore just predicted that Trump is on track to win re-election in 2020. At this juncture, do you think that's possible given his historic low approval ratings and all the scandals surrounding him?

Of course it's possible, but it's way too early to say. Who's the Democratic nominee? As I always say, you can't beat somebody with nobody. It would be suicidal for Democrats to assume they have 2020 locked up. They need a candidate and a message.

What response should the progressives and Democrats have toward this group?

Any group that commits unprovoked violence should be condemned, including Antifa when it does so. I'm all for displays of overwhelming solidarity against Nazis and the Klan and their ilk, but that can be done, and almost always is done, without violence.

Seems to me that Trumps visit to Texas today is more for Trumps benefit (make him look Presidential, etc), than for the benefit of Texas. It's a Political Photo Op. Your thoughts?

That is the case with every president's visit to every disaster. Of course he's not going to actually get into a boat and go rescue somebody. But this is a traditional presidential gesture and I can't be mad at him for it. I have plenty of other reasons to oppose Trump with all my heart and soul, but this isn't one of them.

Well, part of Trump voters' unwavering support is based on the over-reaction by non-supporters. Calling people neo-Nazis, white supremacists, neo-Confederates, racists, bigots, etc., etc. -- in other words, personally attacking them in the most heinous fashion -- is not designed to make them sympathetic to changing their positions. It defies human nature to expect a person to change their views by screaming ad hominem obscenities at them. Democrats better change their strategies if they want to win.

Well, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, neo-Confederates, racists and bigots should be called what they are. I don't know of anyone who has applied these descriptions to all Trump supporters. 

There's a rumor floating around that newly-pardoned defeated-Sheriff Joe Arpaio will "primary" Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. Leaving aside the facts that Arpaio is 85 and his wife reportedly has cancer, I fear this may not be a joke.

Please keep in mind that Arpaio was defeated in his last run for sheriff. So the threat might not make Flake quake in his boots.

From the very beginning of the Harvey disaster in Texas, the narrative coming from everyone in the Trump Administration and associated GOP Politicians (Abbott) seems to have been coordinated, in that all say "everything is going great", "A+ effort from Trump", etc. seems to be an obvious effort to pump-up Trump. Your thoughts?

I'm not aware of what the president has had to do except sign the emergency and disaster declarations. And FEMA, by all accounts, is a much more effective agency than it was at the time of Katrina. So let's see how the federal response goes after the rivers and creeks finally crest, which won't happen until Thursday.

Leaving out the question of why flood insurance is so inexplicably not a part of basic homeowner's insurance, why, in places like Houston and New Orleans, are homeowners not required to have flood insurance before getting a mortgage? I read in the Post today that homeowners think it's too expensive even with federal subsidies but that argues the need for reform of the insurance industry.

This has to change. The maps designating flood zones don't adequately reflect the impact of climate change. And the insurance program is poorly structured. Reforms are urgently needed because this kind of thing will happen again. Soon.

Do you think Trump will continue to pursue the border wall, considering the unexpected cost of Harvey?

Yes. As a businessman, Trump was very good at one thing: branding. The (imaginary) wall is part of his brand. I don't think he'll ever give it up. And when it doesn't get built, he'll run for reelection on the promise of building the wall.

There's plenty there to blame. The state is reliably Republican for decades. It sends morons like Cruz to Washington to set policy, policy that denies climate change, guts early warning programs, and has no compassion for people that aren't them. I doubt all those sturdy pioneers will be refusing any "government intervention" now that THEY are the ones in trouble.

One very interesting thing to watch will be whether Sen. Cruz changes his tune on climate change after watching his home town turned into an inland sea.

It's been widely reported that Trump could pardon those involved in the Russia (and related) investigations. Is there any possibility that legal actions could be deferred until after he leaves office? Is there any possibility that charges could be brought in another country (not US and obviously not Russia) and the accused extradited?

If special counsel Mueller really wanted to get around the president's power to pardon, a simpler way would be to hand evidence over to a state attorney general -- New York AG Eric Schneiderman -- for prosecution on state charges. The president can only pardon for "offenses against the United States," meaning federal offenses. Not state offenses.

To many of us, Melania's decision to wear 5" high stiletto heeled shoes to Texas today is a "let them eat cake" moment. Not the first in the Trump family Presidency, either.

I think we can give Melania Trump a break on her footwear. I'd advise her to change into a more comfortable pair for actually touring the damaged areas, but who cares what she wears while she's on Air Force One?

An obvious, but very excellent story by one of your fellow WaPo reporters. Our house has separated "Teleprompter Trump" from "True Trump" like on that Post-Charlottesville Tirade on 8/15. Should the media separate his Tweets from "what a staffer wrote" from "What he tweeted after he saw a report on Fox News"?

News organizations already try to make this distinction. But I'm not sure we even need to, since it's usually pretty obvious.

I heard Joe Scarborough say this morning that the last of the "crazy" people in the White House is now gone. Would that be your assessment as well? I can think of at least one young adviser remaining who appears to be a bit nuts.

Depends on where you draw the line on "crazy." You may be referring to Stephen Miller, who remains in the White House and fits my definition of crazy. So no, I wouldn't say Gorka was the last.


That's it for this busy news day, folks, My time is up. Help the folks in Texas however you can, because they're going to need it. 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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