Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Trump's clearly in a bad mood

May 12, 2020

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Hi everybody, and welcome again to our chat. Well, it's a busy morning. Two major events have been underway -- the Senate committee hearing on the covid-19 pandemic and the Supreme Court arguments over Congress's right to subpoena President Trump's financial records. Hard to follow both at the same time. I've been watching the hearing and glancing at journalists' updates about the arguments. Neither seems to be going particularly well for the president. Dr. Fauci has made it clear that lifting shutdowns too quickly invites disaster. Meanwhile, justices have been openly dubious about the above-the-law argument posited by the president's lawyers. Trump's early-morning tweetstorm showed that he was in a bad mood. For good reason, it turns out. Let's get started.

I hear a lot about testing (which we have very little of), followup contact tracing (which we have none of), and quarantine (which we never have at all). What's the point of tracing contacts if we cannot quarantine? If Americans won't wear masks, they sure as hell will not quarantine. If tracing is moot, why have testing? Don't get me wrong...at this point in time, looks too late.

That's a very good question. If mitigation were to work perfectly and we succeeded in lowering infection rates radically (which hasn't happened), and if an ideal system of widespread testing were put in place (a distant dream), there would still be scattered outbreaks. Those outbreaks would have to be squelched via contact tracing and, yes, quarantine. If you don't isolate those who may infect others with the disease, you don't control the outbreak. I've heard no plan from the Trump administration -- or from governors -- for implementing the quarantine measures that will inevitably be necessary. Which means that the anticipated second wave of infection this fall and winter could be really bad.

I don't know how else to tell you how brilliant your column was, and how much I agree. Thank you.

Why, thank you! It's a pet peeve. Why should Democrats shy from using effective tools like emotion? Why can't they employ bumper-sticker language the way Republicans do? 

What is trump hiding? Why does he work so hard to conceal every financial detail of his doings. It must be very powerful if he works so hard to keep it hidden. What is he hiding?

Obviously I don't know, since we haven't seen the documents he's hiding. But I have some theories. My guess is that he isn't anywhere near as rich as he claims. I wonder if he doesn't have sums of phantom money whizzing back and forth among shell companies, creating the illusion of wealth that really isn't there. And we already know (thanks to a New York Times investigation) that he has a habit of cheating on his taxes.

I agree with your article. Are the democrats capable of doing it? It appears they keep attacking each other.

Thanks, but I disagree. I actually think the Democratic Party may be more united right now than I've ever seen it. Look at how quickly all of Joe Biden's opponents united behind his candidacy. 

Just LOVED your column in May 8 Opinions section. Would like to know why are Democrats not using emotion effectively in their campaigns and why are Republicans so much better at messaging?

It's a politico-cultural tendency that has to change. I remember, during the fight over the Affordable Care Act, seriously suggesting to a high-ranking member of the Obama administration that they ought to establish a Department of Pithy Phrases to fight against Republican howitzers like "death panels."

I read your columns & chats frequently and enjoy them tremendously. My question is this: what if we defeat Trump at the polls, he declares the election fraudulent, and refuses to leave the WH? Shouldn't we prepare for this? What if all those protesters who are carrying AK47's now, continue to support him & march into Washington? Who would the cops, Military, FBI, Secret Service and National Guard support? I'm terrified of this eventuality. He won't go quietly into the night!

Thanks. As I've said repeatedly, this scenario does not disturb my slumber in the least. President Trump may wail and howl when he becomes a lame duck, but that's what he'll be. And on Inauguration Day, he will leave the White House -- under Secret Service escort, if necessary.

Gene, How bad would it be if the Supreme Court ruling on today's hearings split along partisan lines in the President's favor? In all seriousness, would it mean the end of any objectivity at the highest court? And/or the end of democracy? I ask because it seems to me that this is possibly more serious a decision than even impeachment was, and I fear that the make up of the court is at the point where political beliefs could be more important than actually interpreting the law. Your thoughts?

It would be incredibly damaging to see a 5-4 split in favor of the president. My guess is that Chief Justice Roberts will do everything in his power to avoid such an outcome. The ideal would be a unanimous ruling, as in the case of the Nixon tapes. That may be too much to hope for, but I'd settle for something like 7-2 or even 6-3.

As President Trump continues his destruction of the country, Republicans have been silent. I think it's time for reporters to contact every Republican senator and representative and ask them if they support what Trump is doing. They all need to be on record prior to the November election. And, despite what Mitch McConnell says, it is time for former President Obama, as well as all the other living former presidents to get together and denounce what Trump is doing. More than 80,000 Americans have died because of Trump's incompetence. The unwritten rule of former presidents not commenting on their successors failed to take into account someone like Trump.

Alas, we in the media do not have subpoena power. We ask those questions of Republicans all the time, or at least we try to. Some literally run away. Most respond with word salad -- unless we agree to go off the record, in which case some will tell us what they really think. We don't have the power to compel Trump's enablers to come clean. But voters do have the power to throw them out of office.

Dear Mr. Robinson: Somebody needs to talk about this. YOU'D be good! I struggle to find my peace over my upcoming definite vote for Biden when, despite many red flags, I believe Tara Reade. I'm trying to compare it to folks who voted for Northam. Most forgave his early incident of blackface in light of the good he's done since. Assault on a woman's body is much worse than assault on sensibilities, but here we go again. The lesser of two evils is a desolate choice. For this old woman it's a primal compromise, because elements of her story were so convincing, including things he said. He's turned his temper on people before, even in public, when they resisted him. (I've read every account of her behavior, inconsistencies, and personality issues. I believe her not because I like her, but because it's believable.) Do you know of other good ways to think about it? I get the existential threat part. --Blue No Matter Who But It Hurts

You might take into account the many fierce, progressive women who have known Joe Biden for decades and genuinely don't believe he is capable of the acts Reade alleges. I think that should count, too.

Your opinion of yesterday's press conference please. Specifically, his treatment of the women reporters and the microphone being placed so low that journalists had to "bow" to get to it. Deliberate?

I noticed the microphone placement, which was weird and surely deliberate. These unhinged performances only hurt Trump's approval standing and his prospects in November, so he continues them at his own peril.

I’m curious what you think journalistic rhetoric will look like in a post-Trump America, and if it will ever return to normal. For example, will future presidents be described as having a “…staggering level of ignorance,” when they make minor gaffs? Will an otherwise normal press briefing that leaves some questions unanswered be described as “…daily carnival of misinformation, preening and political venom,” or will the language return to a more tempered tone if and when the presidency returns to normal?

We have had to use nontraditional language to describe this president. I think we'll go back to normal when we have a president who doesn't lie all the time. This really is an unprecedented situation.

I was zipping through the presser yesterday as the stupid was more than I could take. When all was said and done I (obviously) had to go back and see where the two WONDERFUL lady reporters caused the Dear Leader's meltdown. It would be funny, except it clearly appears that Barr et ux. are planning some sort of pre-election massacre. My Senator, Chuck Grassley, seriously appears to have gone off the deep (or is it derp?) end as well. I didn't really take the "cancel the election" claims seriously when they were first emerging, but now I'm getting genuinely concerned that we have entered Germany 1933. Besides the obvious vote vote vote, and obviously speak out on the web, what can a concerned citizen do?

Vote vote vote. That's what we can do to end this sideshow. 

80,000 Americans are dead, yet on a national level we fail to have any acknowledgement of this great loss. No national prayer, no 1/2 staff flags, etc. Nothing to unite in grief. I miss this as it helps - remember Obama's Amazing Grace? Why do you think Joe Biden hasn't stepped into that role? Wouldn't it be great on both a human and political level if he led a daily moment of silence to unify Americans?

You're right that there has been a complete lack of compassion and empathy from the White House. It would be interesting for Biden to demonstrate how a real president should react -- and in fact Biden does so in his statements and videos. A daily moment of silence is an interesting idea.

Gene, one of the things that rally freaks me out is the fact that even if there are enough doses of the vaccine (we don't know that yet) that actually works (we don't know that yet), we don't have enough syringes and needles to dispense those vaccines. There is also the rest of the world which also needs to be immunized for everyone else to be safe is just not being planned for. I am involved in this research and things are not being planned with any forethought. This is an equation for disaster, sorry to freak everyone else out too, but, frankly I'm really worried, with knowledge to know better.

I've heard officials acknowledge these needs, if a vaccine is actually to make a difference. You may know more about what's really being done and what isn't, and that worries me.

Why are Congressional Democrats not insisting on funding vote by mail for all 50 states? Why not tie this to any and all relief bills?

They're trying. Maybe this time they will really make a stand.

That is the issue.

Another distinct possibility, if not probability. Recall that his sons once boasted of all the Russian money they were taking in.

Hi, Eugene. Before the outbreak, I believed that it would take fifty years for America's standing in the world to recover from the Trump Administration---and that was if nothing went wrong. I shudder to think about American prestige now. Your thoughts?

At this point, especially after our sadly inadequate response to the pandemic, America isn't feared in the rest of the world, it is pitied. I don't think it will take 50 years to recover our standing, though. Things should improve immensely next Jan. 20.

Is it still possible at this point with Trumps support still solid at the 40% level that enough moderate republicans will hold their nose and pull the lever for him in November?

Most registered Republicans will vote for Trump but that's juts 27 percent of the country, according to Gallup. Basically all Democrats will vote against him, and that's 31 percent. The question is how do independents vote. They make up 39 percent of the electorate, and they are abandoning Trump in droves. 

Hi Gene, As much as a lot of us would like this fall to be 2008 redux - total annihilation of the Republican party at the polls - I remain skeptical. While we are now in economic freefall, as we were then - maybe worse - we seem even more tribalized this year, in a way that helps Trump maintain his core supporters. Maybe the biggest surprise to me is that Trump's approval has remained more or less the same (low to mid 40s on average), despite all that has happened. What do you see as the biggest reasons why this is (or isn't) similar to the last time we had an election mid-crisis?

The similarity is that I believe voters are concluding that Trump is not up to handling the crisis, just as they concluded that John McCain was not up to handling the financial crisis in 2008. Once that decision is made, it's hard to reverse.

If by fall Trump is polling way behind in the key swing states, and his internal polls his confirm these public polls, any chance that he decides not to risk a hugely embarrassing defeat, withdraws from the race, and declares that he would have won, but was tired of the job?

I think that's unlikely. But want to know something weird? I actually had this dream last night. (Not a big believer in the significance of dreams, though...)

That's it for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for participating, as always, and I'll see you again next week. As always, 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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