Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: It will get worse before it gets better

Mar 31, 2020

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to our weekly chat. Most Americans are now under stay-at-home orders of varying severity, and I hope you all are keeping yourselves, your families and your neighbors safe by complying with the social-distancing rules. The covid-19 pandemic has yet to reach its peak, so things will get worse -- much worse -- before they get better. By now we all know the tragic history of President Trump's failed response to the pandemic (ignoring it, denying it, calling it a hoax), but I'm hoping that finally the scientists have at least made him understand how very many lives are at stake. He obviously still doesn't comprehend fully the role the federal government could and should be playing. It is insane that 50 governors are competing to buy ventilators, bidding up the price -- and that FEMA is then coming in to outbid them all. Truly insane. The federal government should do the purchasing and then allocate the machines to the states as needed. Duh. The private sector and the law of supply and demand are not the right tools to properly distribute desperately needed resources in an emergency. But that's where we are. 

How is everyone holding up? At my house we're doing  a lot more cooking than usual. As you probably know, my colleague Alyssa Rosenberg and I have started a book club, and we're reading Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall." Everyone with time on their hands -- meaning everyone -- is invited to join us. 

Let's get started.

It has long been my nightmare that trump and his allies would find a reason to question, then refuse to accept the result of an election which he did not win. What better excuse than the virus had prevented an election that in any way was not “perfect”. Are you confident that right-thinkers in Washington could gather in sufficient strength to boot him out of the White House?

Actually, I am. The federal and state governments should now, at this very minute, be working as hard as they can on implementing procedures that allow Americans to vote freely and fairly in November. By then, we could be seeing a second wave of the virus (assuming it's seasonal like the flu, which it might not be). We must be prepared. All of us must demand that the nation is prepared. 

That said, there will be an election. I am indeed confident that if Trump loses, he will be escorted out of the White House on Inauguration Day. Bodily, if necessary.

Why are the past living presidents especially Obama and Bush staying silent about thIs health crisis we are in? After all they are citizens and we need to hear some real leadership voices

Either of them -- yes, Bush too -- would provide far better leadership in this crisis than President Trump. But I do understand their reticence. We don't have two or three presidents at a time. Sadly, in this moment, we have only one.

I am always amazed that reporters don't really press Trump when he lies repeatedly at his press conferences. Where is the question: "Mr. President, if you hadn't been minimizing the severity of this virus (you already have all the quotes/video) for months or calling it just another Democratic hoax, wouldn't we be in much better shape"? And keep asking until you get an answer. Perhaps a better idea would be to stop airing these press conferences live. They're just subbing in for the rallies he can't have! Tape delay them. If he makes any real news or actually says something that is true, it can be turned around in a matter of seconds.

I believe the networks should think seriously about your recommendation that the briefings, which at times are just Trump rallies, not be carried live. It's a tough call -- the briefing Sunday, for example, was newsy and consequential, and needed to be covered live. Yesterday's could have been on delay. 

On your first question about the White House reporters and the questions they ask, I disagree. They ask those questions all the time -- and, frankly, it's a waste of their time. When accused of lying, Trump responds either by doubling down on the lie or by inventing a new one. And guess what? He's at the podium, and thus in a position of power. The White House correspondents can't win these encounters. They need to come up with a different approach.

Why don’t governors utilize an existing entity, like the National Governors Association, to temporarily submit a singular bid for all health-related supplies and equipment? It might help with cross-bidding and tracking supplies to individual states. Apparently, they don’t have any other centralIzed options. Logistics could be channeled through an emergency Supply Czar and staff.

That sounds like a reasonable idea, but one wonders if there's time to organize such an effort. We already have a federal government that could fill that role -- if it would step up and do the job.

Thousands of people would much prefer to limit the Coronavirus press briefings to maybe twice weekly. They have become redundant n repetitious not to mention they are all about Trump n his love for himself n what a great job he is doing. We would encourage the press to boycott the next briefing— don’t show up!! Can you imagine the look on Trumps face when they walk out to podium n nobody’s there. At the very least stop asking all those unnecessary question. Even today on his way to Norfolk Va there is a question n answer session n we are forced to hear more of his lies n bluster. Don’t forget we need a break from this jerk. Thank for ur consideration. Love reading ur columns.

Perhaps the reporters should ask questions only of Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci and the other experts -- and not direct questions to the president. Just a thought.

Could we have the government sent "press coupons" to people? Local press is dying in the whole country. Local press used to be paid for by ad revenue that is now essentially gone. People paid for the news in a "hidden" form. Online or not, local press still needs revenue to pay for reporters and editors. Local press sent money to larger news networks (like AP) to pay for other news. Now "local" press increasingly just part of a national network, with no one to hold local actors to account. A coupon could be used to pay for any news source from local paper to Breitbart, counting on people's good judgement to use them wisely.

Interesting idea. Don't expect anything like this from the current administration, though. Local media, especially newspapers, are getting clobbered right now because businesses are shut down and there's no point in buying ads and they don't have the revenue to buy ads anyway. The Tampa Bay Times, a great Pulitzer-winning paper, announced yesterday it will publish in print only two days a week for the time being. Ugh. But measures like that are necessary for many outlets. The question is whether all these local news outlets will survive in the long run or whether covid-19, for some, will be a death blow.

Gene, Appreciated your column today, but I still wish someone would press the President or even his follow-up spokespeople about the lack of needed medical supplies, even if the response is dismissive or a snarl. Why we can't seem to get supplies to where they are needed, when Trump is in charge of some of the best organizations at doing so (FEMA, the military, even the Postal Service), is almost as bad as his previous denials were. We are treating our medical professionals as though they were troops on the front line, so why do we continue to send out troops without "tanks, guns, and bullets" so to speak? It's sad that we have launched wars quicker than this.

I agree with everything you say. I will add one hopeful note, which is that when this country finally gets rolling, we do indeed roll. It's just that the delay in getting up to speed on this crisis will cost lives.

I mean his approval ratings are up, but still relatively low. What explains that gap between the people answering pollsters who approval of his handling of the pandemic response, but still don't approve of his job nor plan to vote for the President this November? I wonder what it would be like Donald Trump right now had a Donald Trump of 2014 where he was non-stop on the criticism on the Ebola outbreak and the mass media couldn't (or wouldn't) ignore him?

My not-so-secret theory about the political impact of the covid-19 crisis is that it will have little or no impact. I believe people's minds are basically made up about Trump. Approval ratings for Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush both went up at times of national crisis. They both still lost their bids for reelection.

Cuomo was running for President...

He's not running.

Shouldn't we all be using face masks?  Knowing we need them first and foremost for our healthcare workers, of course, shouldn't this be an absolute priority when looking at the research? Please read "It's Time to Face Facts, America: Masks Work" 

I believe we probably should. Obviously that would reduce the spread of the virus, at least somewhat.

The biggest targets of Trump's rage are Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and GM CEO Mary Barra. Has it escaped anyone's notice that they are all powerful women? Notwithstanding the whole Karen McDougal, Stormy Daniels, Access Hollywood stuff, don't women notice how he fears and abuses them? How do any women vote for him or approve of his performance?

The great majority of women do not approve of President Trump, polls show, and will not vote for him. 

Each day, more respected sources (healthcare professionals, media outlets) are highlighting Trump's early disastrous handling of the coronavirus, allowing it to gain a deadly foothold in the US. You point out that Trump has suddenly pivoted to reality, but I think it's important that Americans understand his epic failures. Do you think this info will eventually get through to the public? Thanks for your insights.

Many who belong to the Cult of Trump will never accept that their Dear Leader ever did anything wrong. I think everyone else gets it.

What are your thoughts to the headlines on Wapo, it seems like every day its "experts say 100k + will die", then its 2k, 3k die. Like today, it said that we crossed the 9/11 threshold, which didn't include the 100k exposed to cancerous materials in lower Manhattan 19 years ago, some of who have died from this. I'm sure that isn't counted, and this may be nitpicking, but doesn't it seem like there is a new goal line to cross, then a headline when it gets crossed. How are people supposed to react to this constant bombardment of bad, then worse, news?

The headlines are bad because the news is bad. It's going to get worse. Then, eventually, it will get better. I recommend periods of time away from the news. Listen to music. Read a book. Binge-watch that show your friends have been talking about. Self-care is an important responsibility for all of us.

Since the most reputable widely reported estimates of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are about 2.2 million with no action and half that with aggressive action during the next 18 months (yes, I've seen the "low" estimates of 200,000 and "high" ones of more than 10 million from non-fringe sources), if by fall deaths don't exceed the 200,000 Trump is saying would be a "good job" by his administration how likely is this going to be the sentence he and his supporters repeat non-stop until Election Day? And how likely is it to succeed among enough voters to achieve 270 electoral votes?

Of course the president will at some point declare victory and campaign on what an "exceptional" job he did. As to your question about the impact, as I wrote earlier, I believe most minds are made up about this president and whether he should be reelected. But we'll see.

I applaud your optimism, Gene, but there is no way that Trump's road-to-Damascus conversion is genuine. I’ve seen him go back and forth too many times on too many issues (DACA, e.g.) to believe that this time it will stick. The man is devoid of any beliefs except in his own greatness and inability to do wrong. He is no less dangerous now than he was yesterday or a month ago or a year ago. His lack of ability may cost hundreds of thousands of American lives. So what if he managed to mouth the right words once?

To the extent that I'm optimistic, it's about actions, not about words -- and certainly not about what's going on inside President Trump's head. I saw a shift on Sunday, simple as that. He had been pushing us toward reopening the economy far too soon, which would have been disastrous. He backed off. That's a good thing.

If you think Corona Virus is not gonna make a dent in the polling or rather the election results, why does if feel like Biden is losing ground? I recognize that Trump is using briefings to capture limelight and at times spread a misinformation, but what can Joe Biden do to counter this? Will a truncated summer election season matter? There is no election coverage right now, and everything else seems so irrelevant compared to COVID 19. Is it possible that Trumpians will vote that guy back into office? Can they not see that he bumbled this response and continues to do so? How can democrats make this more obvious to Trumps base or independents?

It's only March 31. Politics will resume. There's not much Biden or anyone else can do at this point. That's just the reality.

making the mileage standards weaker. I believe that anything that has been finalized less than 6 months ago, can be revoked easily. If it has been in place for at least 6 months, you have to go through the rule Doing this at this time, implies that someone has actually paid attention to this and a bunch of other things may be in the works that could be very hard for another administration to undo. Keep eyes open for political appointees wanting to covert to civil service, though with the economy crashing, that might be happening anyway.

This is a good reminder to keep an eye on things that are happening while our attention is focused on the covid-19 crisis.

Is his ego so huge that he can't admit defeat? Why would he want to chance being a spoiler? Isn't the goal to get rid of Trump? This is why I'll never vote for Sanders.

I don't know what's on Sen. Sanders's mind. I don't think he has a realistic path to the nomination, and he can't go out on the campaign trail, so I don't understand what he thinks he's accomplishing at this point. 

Can people who get sick because the Fox influencers told them the virus was a hoax sue them? Is there any obligation for a News organization to be reality based?

I've seen reports that Fox is worried about such lawsuits. I'm not sure they could succeed, but even getting to the discovery phase of a lawsuit could be very bad for the network. Was "it's a hoax" the corporate line? Who decided that?

The networks could certainly attend them, record them and broadcast relevant excerpts. When Trump says the guidelines are extended, that's news. When Fauci gives the latest numbers, that's news. But when a string of corporate executives declares their bottomless admiration of Dear Leader, or when DL tells blatant lies, that should be off the air.

MSNBC and CNN have been dropping the live feed when things devolve to the "My Pillow" point. But it's reasonable to ask whether they should pull the plug earlier.

Mr. Robinson: It always nice to have your calming influence. I am not calm right now. I run large construction projects which have been deemed essential, yet there is no way to practice social distancing when three iron workers need to lift one end of a beam. Rather than being essential, we are expendable. While this is happening I can't get the thought that if the whole mess would have been handled by anyone else we wouldn't be facing mass deaths. I am also immune compromised. What happened to our Country that enough Americans voted for complete ignorance wrapped in every worst quality of human nature. Say something calming please.

All I can do is ask why the work you do is deemed essential when it can't be done with the proper social distancing. And it seems to me that if you're immune compromised, you should definitely be staying home.

Reminder that when we see masks in hospitals, it's generally used by professionals who know who to use them and they use them in sterile environments and of course the outside world isn't sterile. I kind of buy why Public Health officials aren't that keen on promoting masks and just encouraging people to stay home.

It's true that you're much more likely to pick up the coronavirus from a surface, like a doorknob or an elevator button, than by someone coughing in your face. That said, however, it seems to me a no-brainer that mask-wearing would have some incremental impact on transmission, and every little bit helps.


That's it for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for participating, and stay safe!

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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