Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: There's still hope for 2020

Jan 07, 2020

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to our first chat of 2020. Now, where did we leave off? President Trump had been impeached, but Speaker Pelosi hadn't yet sent the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial. No change there, except that former national security adviser John "I Want No Part Of That Drug Deal" Bolton now says he'd love to testify before the Senate, if only someone would subpoena him. This is highly inconvenient for Mitch McConnell, who wants no witnesses. Will Pelosi now decide she's used all the leverage she has and send the articles over? I think she might, but we'll see. In other news, when last we chatted we weren't at war with Iran or threatening to bomb that nation's cultural treasures, like the Taliban did in Afghanistan. Now we are. So that's new. The last time we spoke, Australia wasn't completely engulfed in flames. Joe Biden is still the Democratic frontrunner, Bernie Sanders is still in second place, and Mike Bloomberg is spending millions on television ads, including one in which he almost-convincingly smiles while holding a baby. Also, as you might or might not have heard, there was a 6.4 earthquake today in beleaguered Puerto Rico -- which is part of America -- and all we're getting from television news is a few short snippets of coverage. Let's do better. And let's get started.

Happy New Year, Gene. I was under the impression that assassination was something that our laws prevented us from carrying out. Was I wrong? I ask because Soleimani was assassinated...it seems to me.

Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian general, was indeed assassinated. There is a law on the books against assassinating foreign leaders, but I'm not sure that applies here, since Soleimani was also a combatant who had directed terrorist operations against the United States. However, that does not speak to whether the assassination was a good idea or a rash, reckless, provocative act that will surely lead to greater bloodshed. I tend toward the latter view.

In a tweet over the weekend, Trump threatened to attack Iranian cultural heritage sites. That of course would be a war crime. If he decided to do it, can you think of anything —realistically — that would stop him? I can’t.

The Secretary of Defense has said the U.S. military will not carry out such a war crime. And the uniform code of military justice requires service members to refuse to carry out an illegal order. 

The wildfires in Australia have dominated climate news, with estimates of half a billion animals dead (not counting insects) and widespread destruction. Record floods have hit parts of the southern hemisphere, and who know what will happen in the northern hemisphere when summer is upon us. Already winter storms are causing havoc, such as the one in Pennsylvania. My question is will the effects of climate change become so severe that our ability to cope fails? Firefighters from around the world are going to Australia to help out, just as Australian firefighters came to Canada and other places. But what happens when fires are out of control everywhere, except the places experiencing catastrophic floods? We already have a refugee crisis, but what happens if nearly everyone is a refugee?

What you describe is the dystopian future that climate scientists have been warning about. We're not there yet. We still have time to act. I hope the Australia fires make some deniers realize how real the threat is and how urgently we need to take meaningful steps to stem climate change.

As you stated in your Dec. 19 column, “This impeachment can’t “overturn the will of the American people.” The electoral college already did that.” Why is the problem of the Electoral. College so intractable? Why can’t we Americans simply amend the Constitution to do away with it?

We can, of course. But an amendment would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. The small-population states, which have outsized power under the Electoral College system, will not easily give that power up.

You have made a slight against the loss of diversity in the Presidential race. I am curious as to your solution vice the arcane rules which forced campaigns of white and of color to leave the race. Do we insert a minority clause into the campaign? In some way, couldn't all of us belong to a minority if we went down this path. Joe Biden is a Catholic, old white male, who has sacrificed heavily for our country. Isn't that a minority? Donald Trump got elected because he was the most discriminated orange 'billionaire' on the face of the planet--a minority. Should he have been eliminated or been given more opportunities to excel in his Presidential primary because of his unique status. I worry about everything being relegated to race or minority status--something the Republican majority will exploit--another grievance.

My only point with that column was that it will be unfortunate if there is no diversity onstage at next week's debate, the last before the Iowa caucuses. There was nothing unfair about the Democratic Party rules that winnowed the field. I just believe they ended up winnowing the field too quickly. 

Will the killing of Iran’s #2 be more of a plus or a minus for Trump next November? Will his order to kill Soleimani be more seen as reckless and impulsive or as decisive and determined? Also, do predict this will be in the top two issues in the campaign?

Obviously, it depends. If we end up in a great big shooting war with Iran, with lots of casualties, that will be bad for the incumbent president who triggered that war. If we don't, then the Soleimani assassination will be far down the list of campaign issues.

Has anyone from the intelligence community confirm that Soleimani flew to Iraq to carry out future attacks? Not the political appointees like Pompeo or Esper? Is it possible that the siege of the embassy was enough for Soleimani for the immediate future? I ask this because this Administration, from Trump on down to Grisham, lie on a daily basis, even about tiny things. Why should their word be good enough now?

By constantly telling lies, this administration has forfeited any claim to the benefit of the doubt. So nobody should believe them when they say there was an "imminent" threat unless they produce evidence. Maybe they will offer such evidence to congressional leaders later today.

Our country is entering a very dangerous time and the recent attack in Iran shows that the Republican party is no longer concerned for our nation. Legislators are falling all over themselves to back Trump (even his push to destroy Iran's cultural centers) while others post fake photos...and then double down on the lies. I know we can vote for a much needed change, but will we still have a country this November or will Trump's war kill us all?

We'll still have a country. Vote, everybody.

So does Trump risk pardoning Flynn now, which might harm his reelection chances (further)? Or let Flynn serve six months, then pardon after Election Day?

I am confident that all of President Trump's political advisers will caution him not to even think about pardoning Flynn before the election. That said, who knows what Trump will wake up one morning and decide to do? Maybe we should ask the hosts of "Fox & Friends" what they think.

So we killed a man (admittedly a BAD guy), a citizen of one country, WHILE IN ANOTHER country. The Iraqis are understandably pissed. Do these rules apply to us? Could someone shoot one of our Generals in, say, Canada or Germany, and would that be ok?

Obviously, that would not be okay. And Iraqis do not think what the United States did on their soil is okay.

Is Michael Bloomberg gaining any real traction in your view?

I've been highly skeptical of Bloomberg's strategy, which is basically to skip the first four primaries and shock the nation on Super Tuesday. That said, he's at 7 percent in the most recent poll I saw, which is pretty impressive. So I'm still skeptical, but now paying serious attention.

I suspect Bolton has no intent to actually be a witness in the impeachment trial, partly because he is confident he won't be called as a witness but also because he intends to say nothing important; he's just attracting attention to enrich himself through web traffic and his book. What do you think?

That's a real possibility. He also might be so happy that Trump committed an act of war against Iran that he wants to testify in a way that helps the president. But it's also possible that Bolton (who was treated like trash by Trump) actually wants to tell the truth about the Ukraine "drug deal," which sounds like very bad news for Trump.

...perhaps the best revenge the Iranians could get would be to hack Trump's bank dealings or the IRS, then disclose his returns and financials.

I have to think this might have occurred to the hackers of Tehran.

I think the field has to be winnowed and to me, the sooner the better. Too many candidates creates the likelihood that we will end up with a losing candidate. I was frankly surprised that so many wanted to run but it is not working in our favor right now. I plan to vote blue no matter who but some folks are going to stay home because their guy or gal did not win.

I'm not sure I agree with your premise. Why not have a lot of candidates run? Why not let actual primary voters winnow the field? Isn't that the best way for the party to reach consensus?

If Trump is re-elected, I doubt our constitutional republic will survive, and I fear it will be the beginning of the end of liberal democracy. I'm also concerned that he has a real chance at being re-elected. What are your thoughts?

It's way too early in the new year for such apocalyptic thoughts. It will be awful for America if Trump somehow is reelected, but I believe democracy can and will survive. It may be battered and bruised, though.

Hi Gene, Re: your recent column on the lack of diversity in the remaining Dem primary field, how would you change the rules for next time? I think that Tom Perez & co. had a largely thankless task here, so I don't place all the blame on him. The current rules seem to over-emphasize "grassroots" donor support (read: mainly white people - like me - with enough disposable income to send regular $30 donations to their preferred candidate), and under-emphasize *statewide* elected experience. Whatever their intellects or ideas, I think it's ridiculous that the rules allow Yang and Buttigieg to stick around while Kamala Harris and Jay Inslee - to pick just two - are gone. Toward that end, let this also be the last time that IA and NH go first.

Tom Perez does have a tough job, but it's what he signed up for. I understand the rationale for using individual donors and poll numbers to qualify for the debates. Are those the best possible criteria? I don't know. As for the Iowa problem, I wonder if a solution might be for the first four states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- to have their primaries and caucuses on the same day. That way, they all still get to go first. We'd get an aggregate electorate much more representative of the party as a whole. And all the candidates already spend most of their time in those four states, anyway. 

Isn't the Soleimani assassination a benefit for Khamenei and company and an opportunity for them to consolidate power? We have relatives in Iran who are just about uniformly very tired of or actively opposed to the current regime there, but a threat of the size that our POTUS continues to announce and in particular the idea of destroying cultural landmarks -- many PRE-islamic -- that are a source of inter-generational identity seems likely to turn some hearts and minds.

If the Soleimani assassination had any impact on public opinion in Iran, it was in favor of the government. 

Hi Gene and Happy 2020. What's your opinion of House Intel subpoenaing Bolton in order to get his testimony? Seems to me that now that he says he will testify if subpoenaed by the Senate he loses any excuse to not testify.

I don't think Pelosi will do that unless perhaps she gets an ironclad guarantee from Bolton that if the House issues as subpoena, he will indeed testify -- and not run to court.

Since Mitch McConnell is determined to rig the Senate impeachment trial to falsely acquit Trump, do you think Speaker Pelosi issuing subpoenas to Bolton, McGahn, Mulvaney, etc., would generate enough public pressure to compel McConnell to conduct a trial with those witnesses?

The public already supports having witnesses in the Senate, overwhelmingly. By nearly 3-to-1. So if public opinion were going to make the difference, McConnell would already have caved. He's playing to an audience of one.

When I look at historical records of presidential approval ratings (Gallup, going back to Truman), I'm struck at how consistent Trump's ratings are compared to other presidents. It may be symptomatic of how utterly divided we have become, and I hypothesize that a root cause for the division is in how we consume information and seek validation instead of truth. What do you think, and can democratic republics function in the "Disinformation Age?"

The technology of information, which is fundamental to democracy, lags behind the technology of disinformation. That is a problem we must somehow solve. It will not be easy, but we have no choice.


That's all for today, folks. Our time is up. Happy New Year to you all, 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 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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