Eugene Robinson Live (Jan. 16)

Eugene Robinson
Jan 16, 2018

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

Read Eugene's latest: Republicans, do you want a race-based immigration system, too?

Hi, everybody. Welcome to our weekly chat. I have a feeling we'll probably touch on the subject of racism and the president -- specifically, the president's racism -- and how the GOP either shares or enables it. And we'll talk about other topics as well, I'm guessing. Let's get started.

When he says something ridiculous like he's the LEAST racist person there is, why can't a reporter come back at him with, well, why did you say Mexicans are rapists and all Haitians have AIDS and Nigerians won't want to go back to their huts, etc? Quote his own words back to him. Would this seem too combative from a reporter? I just HATE watching him make statements like that after hearing the words come from his own mouth. I mean, James Baldwin nailed it here: “I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do.” P.S. Thank you for helping to keep me sane in these times.

Reporters do come back with those follow-ups, or would if he stood still long enough to ask a follow-up, which he doesn't anymore. But you know in advance what the president would say. Nothing remotely resembling an actual reply. So we have to point out those things in our stories and columns.

Why does there seem to be an abyss in reporting, given the President's obsession with the birther movement and his own (according to Wikipedia...) ancestry. His father's (Frederick's) purported arrest in 1927 in NY as a member of the KKK would seem significant, especially given the President's recent Oval Office comments....

Fred Trump's arrest at a KKK shindig has been widely reported. As has been the fact that Fred and his son Donald were sued by Richard Nixon's Justice Department for refusing to rent apartments to black prospective tenants. So yes, this goes way back, and it hasn't been kept a secret.

Do you think the denial of Trump's foul language by Senators Cotton and Perdue is more a case of Trump wielding a carrot (e.g., potential offers of political advancement) over the two men, or a stick in retaliation if they didn't deny it? Either way, it stinks worse than last year's fish.

Cotton and Perdue have been simply abominable, disgraceful, appalling -- chose your pejorative. And their lying is apparently based on their contention that Trump said "s---house" rather than "s---hole." Give me a break. They should be ashamed of themselves. And they will probably have reason to regret their mendacity. They called Dick Durbin a liar, and that's not done in the Senate. Durbin and others (including some senior Republicans) will make them pay.

This was part of a letter to the editor in the NH Union Leader. This just convinces me there is no way Trump's base will ever see him for what he is. Every single "flaw" noted is one Trump has, yet the writer is oblivious: To the Editor: My Bible tells me that whoever has hatred has lying lips. Whoever spreads slander is a fool. The Bible also asks why are some people so mean. The truth is that until they are redeemed, they don’t want to hear the truth. Is it any wonder that people whose hearts are driven by pride, greed, anger, jealousy, envy and self-centeredness act hatefully toward God’s people — especially toward President Trump?

Seems to me that if you want to see hatred and slander, just read Trump's Twitter feed.

Submitting a few days early so who knows what will be going on by next Tuesday but... Why is there even a discussion about when/if/how Mueller would interview Trump? It's not optional, right? If Mueller subpoenas Trump doesn't he have to submit to the interview? Doesn't seem like anyone else has had the "No thanks, Bill" option. It's all so crazy.

My non-lawyer's understanding is that if Mueller wants to interview the president he is entitled to do so. As a practical matter, out of respect for the office, a prosecutor would want to accommodate the president's schedule, etc. But it may eventually come down to a demand, backed up by a subpoena. And then I don't know what would happen, because my guess is that Trump's lawyers would do almost anything to keep him from sitting down for a formal interview under oath. Everything could and would go wrong for him.

I've read/heard lots of criticism of Democrats/Progressives for engaging in identity politics. I honestly don't understand. To me, if you're a woman, a person of color, LGBT, a religion other than christian, etc. your concerns are as just as important and should be taken just as seriously as the concerns of white christian men. It seems to me that the Civil Rights movement, the Women's movement and the Stonewall protests paved the way for people who did not control power to speak up and fight for equal rights. When they say identity politics is bad aren't they really saying "shut up and sit down"? What would Republicans/conservatives say I'm missing about their objections to identity politics? Also, isn't their use of conservative-christian or alt-right/KKK/neo-Nazi signifiers another kind of identity politics?

What they're saying is, "My identity is superior to yours. My identity is so superior that it isn't really an identity at all. It's more like a benchmark state of being."

Don't we already have "merit" based immigration via work visas? And what is wrong with chain migration?

Yes, we do. And from the Republican point of view, what seems to be wrong with "chain migration" is that it lets in too many Latinos.

Is anyone investigating what the Presidents solution to the opiod crisis is? The one he alluded to and said that America isn’t ready for it yet. Given his liking for “strong leaders” is he going to tweet his version of the Duterte solution to drugs?

He doesn't have a solution. He promises this and that, and never delivers. 

Then answer is always a lie. Since we know this is the case, every reporter should end the story with that statement.

That is a very good question. Why, indeed, do we go to such effort to ask questions of someone -- even a president -- who we know is going to lie? I suppose the answer is that we make the effort because he's the president. But it seems to me that in covering this administration, official statements -- from the president, the press office or any other official source -- can never be taken at face value. And it seems to me that independent reporting, relying on sources other than Trump and Sarah Sanders, should be given primacy over the day's spoonfuls of propaganda.

Mr. Robinson, Do journalists have a responsibility to maintain some sort of focus, even as they keep abreast of ongoing news? How do we ensure the public is informed but not overloaded? And what are the most important stories of our time, that transcend the daily hysteria? Best, Kevin K.

We're doing the best we can. If by maintaining focus you mean ignoring the latest racist/sexist/insane outburst from the president, I don't see how we can do that. So we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We can cover policy and issues, and also write about the day's events.

Why does Congress even need to involve Trump? Can't they get enough votes to pass the Graham/Durbin plan, and then send it to the White House? Trump has already said he'll sign anything they send him, and his lust for the Rose Garden signing ceremony will overrule anything else.

Legislation like that proposed by Graham and Durbin would pass both houses of Congress easily -- if the Republican leadership would allow such legislation to reach the floor. Which Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell won't do. A clean DACA bill would probably make it through both houses, but most of the votes would be supplied by Democrats. Ryan, especially, would face a revolt within his caucus.

What do you think it will take for Republicans to repudiate Trump and come to grasp with his incompetence?

A wave election in November that gives Democrats control of both the House and Senate.

The news just broke that Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed to testify by Mueller. Care to comment?

Bannon has always bragged that he was nowhere near any of the Russia dealings and had no intention of even hiring a lawyer. My guess is he's rethinking that position.

Hi Gene -- It's hard to believe that I just wrote that, but it seems like this story has been met with a big yawn, perhaps because it broke about the same time as s-hole gate, but might it also be because when it comes to Trump, nothing shocks us anymore? In other words, his past behavior with women is "baked in," and his supporters (Evangelicals included, which continues to blow my mind), don't care, either. Your take?

My guess is that we haven't heard the last of this story. The Wall Street Journal got the scoop. But apparently there were multiple payoffs to multiple women -- if you believe what Bannon says in Michael Wolff's book -- and I would guess that reporters are out there following up on these leads. So stay tuned.

Why do you think some journalists, especially those on TV, ask so many poorly framed questions? For instance, we’ve now had a news cycle dominated by hole vs House instead of talking about the face that the Pres said he prefers white people to immigrate which is the *substance* of the racist remark? Asking if he said hole simply allows people to evade the substantive question.

I know. Sigh.

For years Republicans have gotten all huffy and offended when anyone accused them of dog-whistle racism. Since Trump, they seem to have decided to embrace explicit racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism. Why now? Don't they fear this will come back to bite them?

I have no idea what they're thinking. Every presidential election cycle, the pool of voting-age adults becomes two percent less white. Already, they're writing off nearly 40 percent of the vote. At some point, no amount of gerrymandering will save the GOP if it keeps heading down this sordid path.

Is this an ignorance to move their agenda forward or just white supremacy unleashed?

Like I said, it's bad politics. I hope that voters prove me right in November.

Do you think the Trump administration is trying to rig the country's demographics in order to maintain, and improve, Republican electoral competitiveness? A few years ago, we all thought Republicans would have to moderate and try to win over minority voters, given shifting demographics. Are they now taking a last stand to construct a whiter electorate, through immigration policy and voter suppression efforts? If so, why do you think this framing of their policy decisions gets so little play in the press?

Clearly shaping the electorate is on the GOP's mind, but it won't work. Inevitably it will fail in the long run, and my bet is that it won't even be a short-term solution, given the results we saw in Virginia and Alabama. 

Asking the President if he is racist seems to beg for denial. What else would he say?! Of course, I'm not a journalist, so this is an amateur observation. Couldn't the question be, "You want only immigrants from Norway, and not from countries with more non-white populations. How is that not racist?"

I agree that "Mr. President, are you a racist?" is a lousy question. Yours is better, but he wouldn't answer it. 

does this President raise concern that 45s administration is like a dictatorship? Censorship on neutral reporting media being labeled bias and fake news..attacking opponents..looking to attempt to jail or just crush them,, ruining and morphing the Republican Party to a alt-right faction..systematic ethnic cleansing thru Immigration laws and last but not least The so called War on Drugs,, which is The war on Blacks... I'm 60 yet this reminds me of 1936,, Whats Your opinion on that ?

This president certainly acts like a wannabe-autocrat, but I think the Resistance is holding up pretty well. Only the Republican Party has succumbed so far.

Not so much a question as a comment... it took 5 minutes of re-dialing and 8 minutes on hold to reach a White House comment line volunteer this morning, so I am very encouraged at the number of Americans speaking up against Trump's racism. Even accepting his lie that he didn't say what we all know he said, the racism is evident in his whites are welcome, black and brown not so much mindset.

That's encouraging to me, too. Send them a message! (Wait, that sounds like an old George Wallace slogan. Why would I have Wallace on my mind these days?)

Gene, One question just recently popped into my head: what the #@%$! does the president do all day??? I've heard reports that he has to have his "executive time" so he can cry on Twitter about how the media are such meanies to him, and how he needs to be in bed by 6:30 pm (really???) so he can eat his Big Macs and saturate himself with TV coverage about how good (Fox News) and bad (everyone else) he's doing as President. That leaves him with only 6-7 hours a day of actual work, and I'm genuinely wondering if he does anything of substance. I see pictures of all our past presidents, and it's plain as day that the responsibilities of office aged them quickly. With Donald Trump, I see almost no change, and wonder if he monumentally deflects as much responsibility as possible and leaves so much unaddressed in his wake.

Those are his "work" habits as described in Wolff's book and the reporting of Jonathan Swan of Axios, who broke the story about "executive time." It's pretty well established that he spends hours each day watching cable news and calling his billionaire friends to complain about the media and his staff. We know that his word means nothing -- he promised he would sign any immigration compromise Congress came up with, and then when he was presented with such a compromise, he erupted in a racist, profane rant. So do we even have a functioning presidency at this point? 

Why are so many sitting Republicans in congress resigning? Are some of them hoping to escape being tied to the Russia investigation? Are they cashing in and getting out? Or do they anticipate a blue wave in future elections? Or are they disgusted with their party and unable to continue supporting it?

Some of the House retirements are committee chairmen who are term-limited in their chairmanships and would have to give up their gavels. But for the most part, GOP members of Congress are calling it quits because they fear they would either lose or serve in a minority caucus, rather than a majority caucus.

What do u think the 2 Rep Senators's recieved for parsing Trump's Vulagar racist statement..and why would they go so far out on the limb?

Tom Cotton may be the most nakedly ambitious politician in Washington, and that's saying something. I have no idea what Perdue's motive might have been.

What’s your take on access journalism, especially as it applies to recent interviews with Trump? Does that type of reporting—NYT pitching soft ball Qs to Trump for access—provide any useful information or does the fear of losing access mean one has to hold back in some way?

I'm of two minds. If you find yourself sitting next to the president, and you're a reporter, what are you supposed to do? You take out your notebook and ask him questions. And one effective and totally valid interview technique is to just let the subject talk; usually they end up saying things they didn't intend to. The question is, what do you do what that material? As an editor, my inclination would not be to publish only if there were actual news in the president's words as opposed to empty blather.

Are facts racist? The majority of Haiti doesn't have a sewer system, that makes it a literal !@#$-hole. When looking for a roommate and I have the option between someone from the country club and someone from section-8 housing....I know where I'm going to start And sorry but a 200 year old poem does not an immigration policy make

Actually, the president was talking about African countries, not Haiti, when he used the term "shithole." And the headline of your post -- "Racism" -- quite neatly sums it up.

You'd think that the party that claims to stand for "family values" would value keeping families together. You'd think.

You would think so. Apparently, you would be wrong. 


That's it for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks as always for participating, and I'll 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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