Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: The killer hornets are the last straw

May 05, 2020

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Hi, everyone, and welcome to our weekly conversation. Here we are, apparently embarking on a massive science experiment with tens of thousands of lives at stake. According to the Trump administration's guidelines, it is too early to begin relaxing social-distancing restrictions. But states are beginning to open up anyway, and President Trump is cheering them on. The influential University of Washington covid-19 model has been adjusted to take increased movement into account and now shows 135,000 deaths by August 1 (up from 72,000). Yikes. There's much uncertainty, to say the least. As businesses open in Florida, Texas, Georgia and elsewhere, who's going to patronize them? Can restaurants survive with only half their normal seating? Will even half the normal clientele show up? These are questions we have to ask one another, because there will be no answers, apparently, from the federal government. We don't actually have a president right now. We have the Twitter version of a fading shock-jock who knows his show is about to be canceled. Let's get started.

Pandemic, earthquakes, global climate change, gun-toting agitators, massive unemployment, a fractured America, locusts and now killer hornets! Tell me something to give me a measure of hope!

The killer hornets are the last straw. And somehow, the Trump administration will fumble around and manage to increase their numbers. We'll all be walking around in full hazmat suits by November.

Do you think it would be smart for Biden to announce closer to the election that he will not seek reelection? You know, "for the good of the country, we need a president who isn't worried about reelection, etc." Help with low information voters who disdain "politics." Assuage the left's concerns about Biden's more moderate brand of Democratic politics.

The conventional answer to this question is: No way, uh-uh, don't even think about it. The reason is that he would immediately make himself a lame duck, limiting his own power and inviting indiscipline among Democrats who would begin campaigning to be his successor. That said, these is nothing remotely conventional about the times we live in. I doubt he'll do such a thing, but I guess we've all learned to expect the unexpected.

Presuming Trump loses in November, to what extent do you think he and his cronies will be investigated/charged with corruption? Where is his greatest vulnerability? Can you see the US ever incarcerating a former POTUS?

I think the Southern District of New York, the Manhattan district attorney and the New York attorney general will conduct various investigations. I may be wrong about this -- part of me hopes I'm wrong -- but I just have trouble seeing a former president put behind bars. Convictions, fines, forfeitures -- that's a different story, and indeed possible.

If Emperor Trump has no clothes, does this mean downballot Republicans will not have the benefit of his coattails? No clothes= no coattails either. Please feel free to use this simile. 

I may use that line. And polls released today show Democrats poised to pick up seats in Montana and North Carolina, of all places. There was a big blue wave in the 2018 midterm, and now one wonders if there will be an even bigger one this fall.

The protesters demanding the immediate reopening of society remind me of the middle-school tour groups I encountered while working at a museum 40 years ago. When I told the smallest children they couldn't bring their soft drinks into the exhibits, they obeyed and looked as if they were about to cry. The high schoolers were usually interested enough in the exhibits that they didn't misbehave. But when I tried to enforce a rule with the middle-schoolers, they would yell, "No! You can't make me!" Honestly, the current protesters seem to be at the same level of maturity as the 11-year-old. How can we teach the next generation that responsibilities go hand in hand with "rights" or "privileges"?

Schools and museums have responsible authority figures who can explain that tradeoff. The nation has President Trump, who models 11-year-old behavior. What we need is an election.

When do you surmise that the media will tire of Trump's daily rallies that are ostensibly guised as Covid-19 briefings?

It turns out that Trump tired of them before the media did. Apparently his political advisers were able to convince him that the briefings were killing him in the polls.

What I don't understand in the Bernie or Bust worldview is how whether Bernie Sanders becoming the next American President is the sole thing standing in the way of passing single payer health insurance? If the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed it tomorrow and it was overwhelming popular, our feckless Donald Trump would enact it, right? Let alone Joe Biden. The one thing holding up Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All bill isn't a presidential veto, right? So why the obsession with whether Bernie Sanders is the nominee or not?

Well, a president who passionately believes in single-payer would surely push it harder than a president who doesn't. That said, you're right that there isn't enough popular and political consensus to actually make it happen -- with the caveat that we don't know what impact the covid-19 pandemic will have. The government and big insurers have guaranteed that covid treatment will be cost-free for everyone. If it takes, say, a couple of years to come up with a vaccine, will people come to like the single-payer approach to covid and feel comfortable expanding it?  

How can we make sure that if a COVID vaccine is developed, all people (except, perhaps those immunocompromised) are required to get it. Enough with the idiot anti-vaxxers, who put everyone else at risk with their scientific ignorance!

One way might be to require proof of vaccination for anyone who, say, wants to board an airliner. 

Hi Gene --- thanks for taking questions today and for your recent column. My rage at the incompetence of the current occupant of the WH knows no bounds, but at the same time I have great concern about VP Biden and the state of his campaign. How do you think he is handling the allegations against him brought by Ms. Reade? He seems to be in an impossible situation -- he needs to take them very seriously and response appropriately, but at the same time they do not, at least on the surface of it, seem to add up. And of course, my hypocrisy detector goes into overdrive when self righteous Republicans, in light of the multiple and well documented allegations against their leader, play the outrage card. I fear that, if Biden doesn't put them to rest, we're going to be hearing about them well into the fall, when instead the focus should be on the abysmal performance of Trump.

I actually think Biden's response was appropriate and effective. He denied the allegations but acknowledged that accusers need to be taken seriously and charges need to be investigated. I think he was wise to ask that any record of a complaint be unearthed and released. I think he was also wise not to invite his political enemies to root around in the papers he donated to the U of Delaware. He gave his answer.

Hi, Gene. I've been enjoying your Wolf Hall book club. Just curious about your reaction to Trump's comparing himself (favorably!) to Lincoln. At the Lincoln Memorial no less. Unbelievable, no? Or sadly, only too believable.

Thanks about the book club. And about Trump saying he's been treated worse than Lincoln, you're right. Depressingly predictable.

Your opinion of this ad please and will the Lincoln Project change some Republicans into stealth Biden voters?

I found it stunningly effective, and I hope it does create some new Biden voters. The GOP politicos who are behind the Lincoln Project are very, very good at this sort of thing.

Where do you think Tara Reade's allegations against Joe Biden are heading? I'm concerned that Trump, with some 25 women accusing him of sexual assault, gets off scott-free while Biden must be held accountable. Is this the direction we're heading in?

No. At least, I'm not going there. I hope others don't, as well.

Remember all the unaired footage from "The Apprentice" that never got released where even his own campaign got caught admitting they were worried Donald Trump used racist slurs on them? Why has the press just given up on that?

Because that footage is apparently the private property of Mark Burnett, producer of The Apprentice, and we in the media cannot compel him to release it. We don't have subpoena power, I'm afraid.

I can't understand why, with the projected COVID-19 deaths going up from approximately 2,000 a day now to 3,000 in June, our leaders are lifting the sheltering orders that protect public health. Is it purely a matter of political and public pressure overruling medical best practices?

Short answer: Yes. Longer answer: As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said yesterday, our current shut-down condition is "not sustainable" in the long run. It just isn't. But there won't be a vaccine for at least a year, maybe two. So the question isn't whether we'll open up while the virus remains a threat. The question is when and how. I think it's clear that now is too soon -- the pandemic hasn't even crested in most of the states that are opening up -- and this impatience will clearly cost lives. But even if done at the proper time and in the proper way, opening up will result in more infections and deaths than if we stayed closed. The aim should be to minimize that increment.

Is it bad I just don't care? I'm going to vote for whoever is running against Trump. Without question. I'm not even paying attention. I just hear things in a general way and move on with my day. Are these things changing anyone from Biden to Trump?

I get paid to pay at least some attention to all that stuff so that you don't have to. But I admit that I can't imagine what I could possibly learn about Biden or his running mate that would make me vote for Trump. Just. being honest.

Eugene, As a baby boomer, I did not experience the universal sacrifices that the Greatest Generation had to make to survive the Great Depression and then win WWII. The sacrifices were deep and essentially created a new normal for many long years. Since that time, the American people have faced challenges, but nothing that seemed to demand similar sacrifices – until now. With the potential for a second (and perhaps more) rebounds, and descent into a full-on depression, I can’t help but wonder if as a people, we are up to it. Our leaders, with some exceptions, seem unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation. The vast majority of the country – again with some exceptions – seem to understand. But we have been dealing with this for just a matter of weeks. How will we respond if we are forced to endure multiple COVID outbreaks while simultaneously dealing with a depression over a period of 3 or more years? How will we compare to the Greatest Generation? Any thoughts?

The Greatest Generation had no sense of its own greatness before or during its ordeals. It grew in stature and courage to meet the challenges it faced. We now must do the same thing.

My mother died from COVID-19 on 4/22/20. She was in an assisted living facility in MA, which has been one of the hardest hit states in the country. How much credence do you put into the recent study being discussed that says shutting down 1 week earlier would have reduced deaths by 60%, 2 weeks earlier would have reduced deaths 90%? I believe that Trump's incompetence has cost many lives, maybe even my mother's.

I am so sorry to hear about your mother. It's painful to answer your question, and of course there is no way to say whether any specific death could have been prevented. But if you look at the correlation between how early states (and countries) shut down and how low they kept the death rate, I think it's clear that two weeks or even one week would have made a huge difference.

With the news that a person in France had COVID-19 in December (implying an infection even earlier), how certain should we now be that the virus originated in China? Maybe that is still the way to bet, but shouldn't the mis-named Spanish Flu be a cautionary tale for us? And to all those talking reparations, shouldn't we make sure the virus didn't originate in, say, San Francisco first? Of course, none of this would excuse aspects of the Chinese response to the virus, but haven't things gotten a little murkier?

I think things have gotten a lot murkier. As labs and hospitals look back through their records and tissue samples, they might eventually write a whole new history for the virus. We'll see.

How can Democrats in congress fight effectively against Trump and his allies' strategy restricting absentee balloting in the coming national election?

The fight that matters isn't in Congress, it's in the 50 statehouses. Fortunately, it happens that all of the crucial swing states already have pretty liberal absentee voting policies.

Wow, that ad from the Lincoln Project really tripped Trump's (hair) trigger. Was it the substance of the ad, which was barbed, or the fact that it came from some high profile Never Trumpers?

All of the above, plus the fact that Trump himself seems to be incapable of mourning the covid-19 dead and hates to have that pointed out.


That's it for today, folks. Our time is up. Sorry I didn't get to every question, but please come back next week and I'll try to do better. 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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