Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Science-based leadership from the White House could have avoided all of this

Jul 14, 2020

Columnist Eugene Robinson will be online every Tuesday at 1 p.m. Eastern for Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson, 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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Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly chat. Not quite weekly, actually, since I took last week off for a break from the insanity. Now I'm back at the grindstone, and -- big surprise -- everything's still insane! The virus is out of control in the Sumbelt, the president is pushing for schools to open, governors are frantically trying to sorta, kinda, dial back their openings and meanwhile hospitalizations, one of the key indicator, are soaring back to the out-of-control levels of May. Sane, science-based leadership from the White House could have avoided all of this. We could be like the other industrialized countries, easing back to new-normal status with daily new cases in the three-figure range. But Donald Trump is president, so we're averaging roughly 60,000 new cases a day. Trump continues to insist that we wouldn't have so many new cases if we didn't do so much testing, which is so crazy and so wrong that, well, there are not words. Speaking of words, today's column is about a word that is finally being retired -- the name of the Washington, D.C., professional football team. It's about time. Let's get started.

In your lifetime and career you have experienced a number of flawed presidents from LBJ and his foray into Vietnam to the present day president. The question is after all this incompetence, present day corruption and divisiveness, can our great experiment of democracy survive, in your opinion, if the future holds more of these types of presidents?

We have indeed had many flawed leaders, but none remotely as unfit or unhinged as President Trump. If we have more presidents with normal strengths and weaknesses, we'll be fine. But please, never again anyone like Trump. He poses a unique threat to the republic.

Hardcore Donald Trump supporters are afraid of getting sick or dying. Witness the low attendance at Tulsa, Oklahoma rally and cancellation of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire rally. So I don’t understand the motivation to attack Dr. Fauci and promote bad information about the virus.

The answer is NOT that Trump is playing some subtle game of three-dimensional political chess that we mere mortals cannot comprehend. You are correct in your assessment that attacking Fauci makes no earthly sense, and also correct in recognizing that most of the president's supporters are as worried about the virus as those of us who oppose him. That's what the polls say, at least. He's. Not. Making. Sense.

Why has no one in the media, as far as I seen or read, asked the President, if his son would be attending school. I know the press likes to keep the kids of Presidents out of the news, but, I'm just curious if the school opening plans includes his own child.

I'm curious, too.

Hey Eugene, why doesn't the Biden camp fight fire with fire. How about some names or slogans about Trump. For example CAPTAIN BONE SPUR or start referring to Covid as the TRUMP VIRUS, since he is the one who is bungling the US response ?

I have no problem with fighting fire with fire, but only if it's right for a given candidate. I don't think taunts and name-calling would sound authentic coming from Joe Biden. He has to be who he is -- not try to be something he isn't.

Given the implications of the increase in Covid 19 infections and death rates, and the downward trend in President Trump's public support, what do you think about the chances of there being not only a change in the Presidency to the Democratic side but also the Senate becoming Democrat majority?

The map is not terribly favorable for Democrats to take the Senate, but right now it looks quite possible -- even likely, if you take the polls as gospel (which we won't). If the election were tomorrow, I think Chuck Schumer would become the majority leader. But the election isn't until November, so plenty of work still has to be done.

Today is July 7. What does Fox News cover on the front page? - "Fraud" in mail-in ballets. - Black crime. - Hamilton. - Cancel culture. Public heath crisis? What crisis? Even Fox's coronavirus page gives no indication of the present catastrophic increase in cases. Fox News is making it difficult for any Governor to impose requirements for masks and social distancing. Imo, Fox News's propaganda is facilitating mass murder. Your comments?

I agree that Fox is irresponsible. But all those Fox viewers are not under court order to continue watching that nonsense. With one little click, they can have access to a wealth of accurate information about what's really happening in the nation and the world. I'm not making excuses for Fox, but Fox viewers are making a choice.

Starting school in the middle of a Pandemic May be easy but what will Trump do when he discovers that keeping them open after things go horribly bad? I see this as a political megaton explosion. A related question, do you think when Betsy DeVos finished her own interview on CNN that totally bombed, do yo think her handlers also thought it was horrible and went into how to spin it? Or are they so inside the bubble that they told her, “Way to go! You nailed it?”

I don't see how DeVos's handlers could possibly have seen that interview as anything but a train wreck, or perhaps a dumpster fire. And yes, Trump is pushing to open the schools without thinking about how much worse it will be for him when those schools have to shut down again -- because people are getting sick and dying.

Hi Eugene, Some Tuesdays I come early to just look this page and at the option to submit a question to you and feel better just knowing you’re going to be here soon… Thanks so much for being here. But today, I actually have something, two actually. I’m torn between these topics. Mr. Mueller’s remarkable op-ed and what, if anything, it signals. Also what can be done to protect America from Trump’s wrath if (hopefully when) he loses this election? Load him up with Ketamine for two and a half months?

Robert Mueller's op-ed was a good one. I wish he'd been equally clear and direct in writing his report. And yes, you are right to worry about what damage Trump can wreak between losing the election and Biden's inauguration. If we're lucky, he'll just go to Mar-a-Lago and have a good, long sulk.

I can't imagine Mitch McConnell not extending UI 4 months before an election...I would think that would be political suicide for about 5-8 of his Republican Members right now. Do you think he'll cut a deal?

I do. If he doesn't cave, his chances of keeping his majority go way down, in my opinion.

I hope Jeff Sessions loses today. Not because he recused himself during the Russia investigation, but because every terrible idea to come out of this administration has his hands all over it. Take the child separation policy, that was Sessions idea! He sold it to Trump, and then when it blew up in the administrations face, Sessions ran for the hills and dumped it in DHS's lap. It was a cowardly act.

Not to be partisan, but my hope is that whoever wins in Alabama today is so weakened that he loses to Doug Jones in November. That would help take the Senate majority away from the Republican Party, which by any objective standard does not deserve to hold power at this point.

Hi Eugene, Have you seen any workable efforts to create a national response to the pandemic in the US? We particularly need swift and accurate testing as well as clear guidelines. Can the CDC get a spine and get out there on this or does the WH really have the power to shut them down? 

I don't know what the CDC can do with no backup from the White House. The U.S. failure on covid-19 is both shocking and epic. I never thought I'd see anything like it. The rest of the industrialized world is slowly getting back to normal, while the pandemic here is totally out of control -- and getting worse. Just stunning.

We've had one Trump rally with very small crowds, and another in New Hampshire cancelled, ostensibly because of the weather, but more likely because of limited advance reservations. The states with strongest Trump support seem also to have the worst covid infections. Would Trump dare to announce another rally, or is the risk of further embarrassment too great?

For obvious reasons, mass rallies can't work right now. Yet Trump, apparently, wants and demands rallies! It falls to Trump's acolytes and enablers to manage this conflict, and best of luck to them.

I know Alabama gets lumped in as part of the "deep south", but with Trump's numbers so low, I could see Jones pulling out a win in November. Birmingham is very Democrat, and has some very wealthy suburbs that seem a lot like the Atlanta region. It also has college towns like Tuscaloosa and Auburn that swung big for Jones in 2017. Do you have any faith that Jones can win in November?

Look, Alabama is a deep-red state (despite the fact that Birmingham, like most cities of its size nationwide, is blue). Jones has an uphill battle, I won't lie. He has the advantage of incumbency -- people know and trust him. But he has to hope for a Big Blue Wave of epic proportions.

Mr. Robinson, thanks for your consistent voice of reason, especially in these times. My question is, with 112 days until the election (who else is counting the days?) would you recommend that Joe Biden spend money and time in Texas? It would be cementing a landslide if it turns blue and even if not, would force Trump to play defense where he never thought he would need to. Or is it fool’s gold and repeating Clinton’s mistake of not concentrating on the states he needs to guarantee at least 270 Electoral Votes?

Biden is now putting ads on the air in Texas, but I don't think he should get carried away. I think he should do just enough in Texas to force Trump to spend time and money trying to defend it -- time and money that Trump would rather be spending elsewhere. And if Texas still looks winnable for Biden when we get down to the final days before the election, then he could decide to really go for it. Right now, it looks more likely to be fool's gold than the real thing. But let's see how things develop.

I have to say that I'm very, very impressed with their work. So much so that I'd be worrying in 2022 if I'm a left leaning Democrat in what normally would be a swing district/state. These people seem pretty honest about their positions, so it would seem to be a one-time thing, even though it seems they are also pushing for a Democratically controlled Senate. Are they putting aside the, "BUT JUDGES" argument for one cycle?

I have come to really like and respect the members of the Lincoln Project, and I am in awe of their political skills. But I am under no illusion that we agree on most policy issues. They have decided that the Trump presidency is an emergency, and they are right. I look forward to the day when we can get back to having normal left-right disagreements -- and yes, they will be (and in the past have been) formidable opponents.

So glad you are back. I'm sure I'm not the only reader who was a little concerned for your well-being. Presumably you just needed a little time off from the crazy...?

Just needed to spend a week not obsessing about every twist and turn of the constant news cycle. Everyone who's now working at home (like me) should remember to take time off. It works wonders for one's mental health.

Did President Trump wear a mask to distract from pardoning Roger Stone, or did he pardon Roger Stone to distract from the humiliation of wearing a mask?

Yes. I hope that clears it up.

You would think that one thing that everybody could agree on is that COVID-19 is real, and we can’t go back to normal until we find a way to deal with it. Yet at least 1/3 of the country will believe a lying conman like Trump rather than someone like Dr. Fauci with a stellar record of service in public health. At what point do we reach a level of willful ignorance so that we can’t sustain a republic anymore? I fear we are dangerously close, if not already there.

I actually think that public opinion on covid-19 is moving in the direction of sanity. I wouldn't bet the ranch on it. But when you hear somebody like Mick Mulvaney railing about how we've failed on testing, you have to wonder if reality isn't rearing its ugly head in a way that's grabbing the attention of at least some of the Trump faithful. When people are individually affected, their opinions tend to change. People have to decide whether to send their kids back to school. They want to get tested and find that they can't, or they have to wait weeks to learn their results. They need to decide how best to protect their elderly parents. Maybe willful ignorance isn't the best coping strategy after all.

We now have two more books to add to an already significant stack. All of them chastised Trump as a person and or a leader of our country. The books by Bolton and Mary Trump seem particularly pointed. In your opinion will either of these two books change the mind of any of Trump’s base and cause them to vote for Biden? More importantly, perhaps, would they even read the books? I have my own answers formulated, but do highly value your opinions on any topic.

Bolton's book might influence some foreign-policy hawks who so far have stuck with Trump. Mary Trump's book may have some limited impact. Basically, though, I think books aren't going to move the needle. Events seem to be doing the job.

There's so much wrong that it's fair to say we can't deal with everything. All the same, what can we do to apologize to Lt. Col. Vindman? It's not just Trump who bullied him but us as a country who let him down. I will never forget his reading his letter to his father where he assured him that his appearance before Congress would be OK because this was the United States not Russia.

I can't forget that letter, either. And yes, his country let him down. We all owe him an apology.

Not to bore people with a personal anecdote but my parents live about 45 minutes outside of Orlando. When I visited them in 2016, I must have seen hundreds of Trump signs on the ride to there house. Just got back last week from a visit with them down there...Barley saw any...People are done with him.

I pay attention to yard signs. I find them more telling than other kinds of anecdotal evidence. And what you're seeing dovetails with polls that show Trump trailing Biden pretty badly in Florida.

On Monday, July 12, on MSNBC, you were seated in front of a picture of several young African American men in what appears to be a Depression era construction scene. If you can say, who is the artist who did the painting and what is the context? 

It's by an artist named Avis Collins Robinson, who happens to be my wife. 

I would change that to "may they get the luck they deserve."

That's better. (Everybody needs an editor...)

I think Trump is jealous of the attention and good press that Fauci gets, so he has to have his surrogates diminish the him.

I think that yes, it's jealousy. And also the fact that Fauci has the temerity to speak the truth, which is at odds with the fairy tale Trump is telling. Unforgivable.

 

That's it for today, everybody. Thanks, as always, for participating. And I'll see you again next week! Submit your questions here.

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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