Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: With Trump, it always comes down to Russia

Jun 30, 2020

Columnist Eugene Robinson will be online every Tuesday at 1 p.m. Eastern for Eugene Robinson Live, where he'll talk about the latest political and cultural developments. Catch up on the transcript of his latest chat below.

Read Eugene Robinson's columns or catch up on past Eugene Robinson Live chats.

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Hi, everybody, and welcome to our weekly chat. As usual, there's far too much to talk about. There are the three huge, epic, world-changing stories that continue week after week, giving no respite: The tragic and abysmal U.S. performance against the coronavirus, which -- incredibly -- is worsening; the reckoning with structural racism and police violence, which is roiling workplaces, including my own; and the coming election, which seems ever more crucial, if that's even possible. Now we must add yet another story -- the revelation that President Trump was told that his BFF (Putin) was offering bounties for U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan -- and did nothing whatsoever about it. With Trump, as Speaker Pelosi once said, it always comes down to Russia. On a sad note, the legendary Carl Reiner passed away at 98. May he rest in peace. Let's get started.

What will happen if (when) Trump loses the election but refuses to vacate the White House?

The string is kept alive -- I get asked this question every single week, without fail. If and when he loses, President Trump will vacate the White House next January 20. He will be removed bodily, if necessary. At that point he will no longer be president (assuming he loses the election) and instead will be a trespasser.

Eugene, the Republicans insist voter fraud is a major problem and have enacted voter ID, purged millions of registrations, and demanded prosecution of offenders even if it was a mistake (thought they were eligible). Question is how can we expect voter suppression to stop when there is no downside penalty for improperly denying an eligible voter's Right to cast a ballot. Shouldn't the penalty for both be the exact same since casting a fake vote changes outcome just as much as purging an eligible voter? The existing imbalance encourages cost-free purges of eligible voters. A government employee facing job loss, fines, or prison would be far more careful in purging eligible voters if each instance was a criminal count.

I agree. There should be penalties for denying even one citizen the opportunity to vote. It's simple: Those who try to bar Americans from voting do not really believe in democracy. They believe only in holding onto power. I'm talking to you, Republicans.

Mr. Robinson, What are the chances of a third political party (new or existing) to replace the Republican Party after 2020? In your opinion, is this realistic or merely wishful thinking? Thank you.

First, I do not take the outcome of the November election as any kind of done deal, and neither should you. Complacency, for Democrats, could be fatal. That said, assuming even the worst case for the GOP (smoking ruin), I think the party will adapt, reform itself and survive. Our two major parties are remarkably resilient institutions and I'm always skeptical of third-party scenarios because they never work out.

If Donald Trump was the CEO of a company facing a health crisis and if in that role his indifference and inaction led to sickness and death, he unquestionably would be removed from his role and possibly even face criminal negligence charges. Shouldn't the duty of care and accountability of the President be of an even higher standard?

It should be. But the way we hold presidents accountable is through impeachment (tried that) or at the ballot box (here's our chance). Let's do it.

Hi Eugene! I watched Morning Joe this morning and Joe thinks that maybe President Trump will drop out in August. Politically, what would that mean for the race? I want Mike Pence to suffer political consequences for following Trump lock step--but would VP Biden have a harder time with VP Pence? Do you think Trump would go after Mike Pence because he couldn't stand to see his VP win? I know it's speculation, but would love to know what you think!

I don't think Trump is going to drop out. If he did, and Pence ended up being the GOP nominee, I think Pence would lose -- I don't see him taking votes from Biden and I don't see him firing up the Trump base. I think the Republican Party would get massacred and basically have to start from scratch.

Hello Mr. Robinson. I felt not enough was made of this fact in 2016, and still not. Clinton lost the election by 77K votes: Michigan 10K, Wisconsin 23K, Pennsylvania 44K. Florida and Arizona were close, too. If Democrats in those states had gone out and voted, or had not voted for the third party candidate, Clinton would have won the election. Four days prior to the election, Bernie supporter Susan Sarandon encouraged people to vote for a third party candidate "to send a message", as Clinton had the election all wrapped up anyway. These are the people who let Trump be elected. I wish more would be said about this, so Democrats do not become complacent again. Even if Biden polls way ahead of Trump, Democrats need to vote. I live in NY state, which as a whole always votes Blue, and my one vote won't make the electoral college points any higher, but there are a lot of very Red areas in NY, so I never take it for granted.

I don't see how anyone could ever again take anything for granted after 2016. But just in case: Everything you say is right. Nobody can afford to assume anything. Everybody needs to vote, no matter what color your state.

My husband and I have had years of white privilege. In the past, we have pushed for equal rights, equal housing, and equal education. What is the best course for us as retirees? How do we help end the imbalance in our society?

Talk to your acquaintances and raise their consciousness. Let your elected representatives know how you feel and urge them to vote the right way on specific legislation. Join a protest -- but only if you can do so safely. Keep on pushing!

Does the Senate approve judicial appointments at all district levels? Is there a way out of these unqualified appointments already in place?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pushed through scores and scores of judicial nominees, and their impact on the nation will be felt for decades. Elections have consequences, and this is one of the biggest consequences of 2016.

America is a compilation, a nation built from a rainbow of humanity. A white America is not a complete America. Only subjective ignorance can deny this. Should a more complete inclusive accounting of our history be taught?

Yes, what should be taught is the nation's actual history, rather than the whitewashed history now presented in our schools. There is no American history without African American history. We have helped build this nation since 1619, one year before the Mayflower landed. 

Hi Eugene, I call myself a "One-Term Democratic Voter" because I have pretty consistently voted and backed Republican. I voted for Trump only because I didn't want to vote for Hillary Clinton (I lived in Massachusetts at the time so my vote either way was not so important). This round I am voting for and backing Joe Biden. As a social moderate, becoming more moderate, and a fiscal conservative, becoming less conservative, my question is this. Assume Joe Biden becomes our next President. What will 2024 look like? I'd like to have the opportunity to pick between two candidates with great credentials, rather than my vote for someone being really a vote against someone. I guess i'm hopeful we move to the middle -- like shopping for a new car with my wife -- we look around and find the car that we both like, compromising on any number of things, make, model, color, power, price, features, size. 

I believe Joe Biden (who's giving a major speech on the coronavirus at this minute) intends, if elected, to govern in that hands-across-the-aisle spirit. I frankly don't know how receptive the other side will be, but I hope we get the chance to find out. There's so much at stake in November that it's impossible for me to look ahead to 2024. First let's focus on who gets sworn in next January 20.

I don't think the American problem with racism can be solved unless we demolish that pillar of European civilization, the concept of race. It is an artifact of the late 15th century that never existed in antiquity, that allowed European Christians to view "savages" as less than human, although fit subjects for conversion and exploitation. Indeed, the people of the British isle had more experience in being enslaved than in owning them until the eighteenth century. There is only one race, the human race, and there is no earthly reason that skin color should signify any more than eye color or hair color do. How do we get to that point? Can you suggest possible methods?

Maybe we'll get there, but I'm sure it won't be in my lifetime. Race is indeed a social construct (not a biological one), but it is deeply ingrained. We have to first fully understand how the concept has been used to enslave, oppress and denigrate before we can even begin to erase it. 

In all of the discussions I’ve heard regarding the murders of blacks in police custody, I have yet to hear anyone associate police brutality with the cops’ uncontrollable, knee-jerk reaction to their perception of disobedience, that is, when someone questions their authority. The cops simply cannot deal with people questioning their authority and dominance. I believe the problem is a mental health issue and that the police in particular are prone to develop authoritarian issues over time. Not that I blame them. It’s a tough and dangerous job and they deal with some really dangerous criminals. Cops should have mandatory and regular counseling. I do not believe the problem lies solely with faulty training or with poor recruiting criteria.

I don't know where you draw the line between mental health and culture. I tend to think that a lot of the problem, in too many police departments, is cultural in nature. Departments that have a "warrior" mentality and an us-versus-them culture are more likely to coddle violent officers who kill victims like George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and so many others. That kind of toxic culture is hard to reform, but not impossible. 

What is your position on DC statehood? It seems to be unnecessary and incorrect since it goes against the intent of the Constitution, to have the capital in a federal district. Arguments on taxation without representation or voting rights can easily and more rapidly be solved by giving back the major portions of the lands first ceded by states. It could be done by legislation, not the constitutional change that likely will be required before seeking statehood. Thank you. I enjoy your calm demeanor and reasoned writings. 

I believe the District of Columbia should be the 51st state. A small federal enclave could be carved out, encompassing the White House, the Capitol and the Mall monuments. But it is scandalous and un-American that 700,000 loyal, taxpaying citizens are denied any meaningful voice in Congress. That can't be what the founders intended.

Do you worry that protesters tearing down Confederate monuments will take focus away from the more pressing goals of the Black Lives Matter movement? Does it remind you of other campaigns where a sub-topic received undue focus and sunk a candidate; e.g., perhaps John Kerry vis-a-vis gay marriage. Marriage equality soon became law of the land. but in 2004 may have spooked voters not ready to process it.

As I've written, I firmly believe the Confederate monuments should come down. I see that as an important step in any meaningful reckoning with race and our national history.

We always see polls tighten as we get closer to an election when the citizenry is paying more attention when the summer ends. Nothing would please me more than to see Trump lose in a landslide. What gives you hope that this time, the polls reflect reality?

As I often must point out, the national polls in 2016 were quite close to the final result. The state polls were wrong -- largely because we didn't have enough high-quality state polls close to Election Day. Anyway, why should anybody think 2020 is different? For one thing, Hillary Clinton never had a national lead anywhere near as big as Joe Biden's is right now. But the best thing for Democrats and Never Trump independents to do is keep 2016 in mind and get out the vote. Squeeze every single possible vote out of every single precinct. And then squeeze some more. 

And should Trump face serious accountability for ignoring Putin's bounty placed on US troops? And the so-called commander-in-chief still isn't doing anything about it. How could anyone in uniform vote for this guy when he shrugs this off like it's no big deal?

I have not served in the military, so perhaps I don't have standing to say this, but I do not understand how anyone in uniform can vote for the reelection of the most derelict and incompetent commander in chief we've ever had.

Now that Mitch McConnell (and to a lesser degree, Mike Pence) have joined the mask bandwagon (admittedly too little too late to the party), do you think the pressure for Donald Trump to start wearing a mask will be too much for him to ignore? Or will be continue to defy even his closest allies thereto, and remain maskless? My guess is the latter, as that's in keeping with his character--even though I'm seeing more people than ever before wear masks (and I live in a right-leaning area).

I'm with you. I just don't see him wearing a mask, simply because he has made such a big deal of not wearing one. It's insane, I know, but that's where we are.

Our military has been a bit too quiet about the revelation that Putin had placed bounties on US soldiers. I find this one of the worse things that's come to light about Trump. What is your take?

Well, we don't want the military speaking independently as an institution. We want the military to be under civilian control. But I hope those wearing the uniform are seething, and I hope they vote to oust Trump in November.

That's all for today, folks. Our time is up, alas. Thanks to everyone for participating, and sorry -- as always -- for not getting to every question. Stay safe, and I'll see you 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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