Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: No justice, no peace

Jun 16, 2020

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to our virtual gathering. As usual, there's so much to talk about that it's hard to know where to start. How about here: No justice, no peace. Demonstrators were still in the streets protesting the police killing of George Floyd when along came the police killing of Rayshard Brooks. President Trump's executive order doesn't begin to address the problem, which is no surprise, since he doesn't believe the problem -- systemic racism, aka white supremacy -- even exists. But the nation is demanding real action, and for now it will have to come at the local level. (I'm skeptical as to whether this Congress and this president can even get it together to institute a simple ban on chokeholds.)  Meanwhile, there was a huge victory for LGBTQ rights yesterday in the Supreme Court, with Justice Gorsuch, of all people, writing the 6-3 majority opinion. And the pandemic continues, with Trump planning his own personal super-spreader event Saturday in Tulsa. Oh, and North Korea blew up one of its own office buildings today, for some reason. Let's get started.

Dear Eugene, Do you believe there will be good fruit from the very strong reaction to Mr. Floyd's death? I am thrilled that so many Anglos have joined these protests! Can you see change in policies of police departments that would deny police unions so much clout in blocking the disciplining of offenders? I'd hope so.

Maybe this is allowing hope to triumph over experience, but I do believe there will be change for the good. The diversity of the protest crowds is unprecedented, as far as the issue of racism is concerned. These look more like the crowds I saw protesting the Vietnam war. I'm hoping that now that so many people have seen racism in action, they won't be able to un-see it. Changing police department policies is a no-brainer -- banning chokeholds, establishing a general rule about the use of firearms. The D.C. police department rule is that an officer can use his or her gun only when the officer's life, or someone else's life, is in jeopardy. Period. That would be a good starting point for a national standard. Perhaps the bigger and more difficult issue, though, is fixing the "warrior" culture within so many police departments. If you want to be a warrior, join the Army or the Marines -- not the local police department. 

Along with tearing down the lost cause statues and monuments, how would you feel about declaring Juneteenth a national holiday? A day of celebration and renewed commitment to liberty and justice for all Americans.

Not a bad idea. Washington Post management has made Juneteenth a holiday this year for employees like me. Hard to imagine this Senate and this president going for the idea, but they might not be around much longer...

I am distraught trying to decide how to vote via Mail or in person. I saw a documentary on how easily corrupted machines can be by hackers despite no internet connection and yet I am worried that a mail-in vote (I'm in PA) will sit in a box found after the election. I even check my registration regularly to make sure my name isn't purged. What way do you think is the most secure way to vote?

I think both ways will be secure, so do what you feel is safest. But definitely be sure to vote, whichever way you choose.

Any thoughts on whether Trump wants to debate Biden? Trump's insistence on a packed Republican convention free of any social distancing has me thinking: to sidestep debating, he might insist on something similar for the debate -- an auditorium packed with people -- which Biden would have to refuse. Thanks!

There's a Commission on Presidential Debates that sets the rules, and they're unlikely to opt for a packed arena. So if Trump wants to avoid debating, he'll have to pull out -- and look weak and frightened.

Equal Justice under the Law? Michael Flynn Pleaded guilty twice. Trump is trying to free him. This should be a massive protest if he gets away with this.

Then start getting your protest signs ready, because this is definitely happening.

This is a legit question, not rhetorical, but I just want to know are most of Americans as tired as I am that Monday Morning News shows actually have set aside a segment JUST to cover our President's tweets? I am so tired of the governance of my beloved country being done on twitter. I am so exhausted by this reality TV show - will we turn the channel now?

Vote for the other channel in November. It's waaaay less insane.

Will Trump cause such labor strife in the Postal Service resulting in innumerable mail in ballots being lost etc., such that he will declare the election void and himself as President until 2024?

President Trump has no authority to "declare" the election void. Nor will he be able to wreck the Postal Service to such an extent as you fear. We will have the election, and if he loses he will leave the White House next Jan. 20. 

These laws allow a man with a gun to shoot a man without a gun based on the perception of the shooter that his life was in danger. Arbery's murderers walked away for two months without being apprehended or prosecuted using this defense that the shooters were defending themselves. Why haven't these laws been challenged?

They should be. They are terrible laws that never should have been passed.

Over the decades the Democrats have always been the worst at promoting themselves and their accomplishments. It's baffling. Why are they such wimps? I've spent more than 50 years in public relations and there are many excellent PR professionals in the country. It seems the Democrats never hire the best, the brightest and most effective, especially in this age of technology. So, why do you think the Democrats have been less effective in their messaging than the Republicans?

I don't know. I keep telling Democrats to learn from the Never-Trump Republicans who are running the Lincoln Project. Their anti-Trump ads are brilliant and devastating. 

I enjoyed your column on the need to focus on ways to win and find myself trying to do just that but I can't help but wonder if you see overreach as a consistent handicap for dems. The way our democratic leaders constantly overplay their hand turns a republican flaw into a bonus for them, turning back undecided and independent voters. Case in point this week "Defund the police" this will go to the republicans and turn some portion of the momentum we have gained in the past 2 weeks to the republicans. Your thoughts please.

"Defund the police" is not Democratic overreach because it's not Democratic policy. That formulation is not endorsed by the Democratic leadership or by the party's presidential nominee, Joe Biden. Republicans will try to pretend it's Democratic Party policy, though, and Democrats will have to be clear about what they support and what they don't.

What happened to Dr. Fauci and what is happening to the spread of the virus?

The Trump White House seems to have sent Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx into the witness protection program. Meanwhile, the pandemic continues with clear spikes in the states that were quickest -- far too quick -- to reopen. It's hard to imagine how the Trump administration could have done a worse job handling the virus, it really is.

Sir, the savage brutality of the killer cop and his crushing the neck of the handcuffed unarmed man . Should we not call this a brutal murder instead of," the cop kept his knee on his neck"? The cop was shown to be fidgeting around to impose his full body weight on the neck.It was not a mere" he kept his knee on the neck" should the CNN and MSNBC not call this a brutal murder?

Since "murder" has a specific legal meaning, journalists don't use that term in news stories until a jury has convicted someone of murder. So we say "killing" instead. Floyd's death can also be called a "homicide," since that's what the medical examiner ruled.  (We opinion journalists are allowed a bit more license, though, and what I saw in that video was a murder.)

Why are so many people pretending like this administration celebrates African Americans‽ Don't forget that we were supposed to get Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill this year. The administration just won't do it.

Who's pretending this nonsense, except President Trump himself and maybe Ben Carson? 

Current election polls show Biden leading- Shouldn’t polling focus on individual red states ? To see whether Biden is leading in those states That gave Trump the win in 2016? National poling was wrong in 2016 due to electoral college. Don’t you believe we are foolish to ignore these individual states? I never hear about current poll results in those important states.

Check out the poll aggregators, like Real Clear Politics or 538.com. There you'll find plenty of state polls -- which show Biden beating Trump in those swing states. A Detroit Free Press poll released today shows Biden up by, like, 12 points in Michigan, for example. Just keep in mind that polls are a snapshot of opinion at a given point in time -- and that the election is not being held tomorrow.

If Trump refuses to debate Biden because of the debate rules, the virus, etc., does that mean he will be spared any tough questions between now and November? He is rarely cross-examined any more, and lately has dismissed any critical questions by either impugning the questioner or just plain lying, with no one to call him out for doing so.

I d0n't expect Trump to engage in substantive debate, even when he's on the debate stage with Biden (if there are debates). He will rant and rave, bluster and impugn, posture and preen -- and not answer a single direct question. There is no way to force him to answer, since debates are not held under oath on penalty of perjury. So voters will have to assess his angry noise for what it is.

Do you have any comments on the validity of the supposed truism: “we get the government we deserve”? Beyond obvious dismissives (like “mere fatalism”), do you see a need for more self reflection among those (like me) who abhor Trump and his cohort, as a necessary prelude to garnering bipartisan support to defeat him and his coconspirators in Congress?

Just speaking for myself, I deserve a hell of a lot better than what we're getting from the Trump administration. You deserve better, too.

Gene, in your recent (6/12) column you let "hope triumph over experience". I'd like to share that hope but fear that this latest--even world-wide--eruption of protest at police brutality and structural racism will follow the cow path of so many previous demonstrations. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said decades ago that "power" never willingly relinquishes its control. Shouldn't we protest peacefully but carry a big stick?

Frederick Douglass, who knew what he was talking about, said that "power concedes nothing without a demand." We have to demand the change we want. No justice, no peace.

Gene: Can you use your incredible voice to amplify the Senate race in your home State? It looks like there is a real possibility for defeating Lindsey Graham!

I plan on writing about the Senate race in my home state, where my fellow Orangeburg native, Jaime Harrison, is giving Sen. Graham the race of his life. Harrison outraised Graham last quarter, which is unheard of, and a recent poll showed the race virtually tied. Harrison is a great candidate who is running a very smart campaign, and this is my pick for a potential Election Day surprise. It is possible that Graham might go down.

What is your view of the Electoral College’s future if Trump loses the popular vote by an even greater margin than he lost by to Hillary but squeaks by in the Electoral College?

That's theoretically possible, and it would be an awful result. The thing to do is to make sure it doesn't happen, and the way to do that is with Blue Wave turnout that makes such an outcome impossible. Just swamp the Electoral College with a popular vote landslide.

When do you sleep?

Not enough.

What exactly is meant by "systemic racism?" I think the term is too vague to be actionable and thus promises too much. If the racism problem is police misconduct or judicial bias, we can design a solution. If the root problem is extreme economic inequality, we can design solutions to that as well, but the fruition may take a generation or more to arrive. If the problem is some kind tribal id distorting our judgement with implicit bias and visceral rejection, it will take generations of focused educational effort, and still may not work. But, In any event we need a delimited conceptual target for our efforts before we can assure effective results. It's a social engineering problem.

Or else people could just, you know, stop being racist. That would be quicker.

Hi Gene -- thanks for taking questions today in these challenging times (I feel like I write that every time I submit a question...will times ever NOT be challenging?). As a gay American I was of course stunned (in a good way) by yesterday's decision. With Kennedy gone I thought there might be a small chance Roberts would be the swing vote for a 5-4 decision, but to have a more decisive 6-3 is all the sweeter. And in the schadenfreude department, I do feel a bit of glee that it was the recipient of Mitch McConnell's stolen seat who delivered the goods (though nothing against Gorsuch, who by all accounts wrote a memorable and important opinion). Some much needed good news when there is very little to find these days, event though McConnell's single minded quest to remake the federal judiciary continues unabated (and the reason he sticks with Trump)...making a democratically controlled Senate a must, especially if Trump somehow manages to squeak out a win. What is your sense of where the Senate is at five months out? How winnable?

If the election were held tomorrow, I think Democrats would take the Senate. I really do. But of course they have to keep the pedal to the metal until November...


That's it for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks, as always, for participating; and apologies that I couldn't get to every question. Stay safe, 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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