Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Let's just get to November, please?

Jul 28, 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. I've been sitting here, trying to watch AG Barr's testimony before House Judiciary, but I don't know if I can take much more. Barr is world-class at just one thing: projecting an air of smug nonchalance. That's what he does when the Democrats attack him for sending unidentified storm troopers to provoke protesters in Portland and elsewhere. It's what he does when Republicans go down the rabbit hole of the Steele dossier or recount the history of the Bolshevik revolution. The whole thing is tiresome, painful, and hopelessly disjointed. We know, already, where everybody stand and what they want voters to focus on. Let's just get to November, please? Yesterday, we saw a more compelling spectacle -- the arrival of the remains of Rep. John Lewis to lie in state at the Capitol. We have lost one of our greatest Americans, and the nation honors his life and service -- even if President Trump does not. Let's get started.

Thank you for your witness. Our family also lives this nightmare. Society turns a cold shoulder.

You're referring to my Friday column, in which I praised Kim Kardashian West for her statement of concern and support for her husband, Kanye West, who is "running for president" while obviously in the midst of a crisis brought on by his bipolar disorder. Kardashian West outlined the dilemma so many families face: Unless West is judged a threat to himself or others, loved ones are powerless to compel him to seek help. I am no apologist for the Kardashians and I know they have monetized their family dramas in the past, but I see no reason to believe that is what is happening here. Kardashian West is rich and famous in her own right; she doesn't need her husband's money. Since I wrote the column, I've heard from many families in the same desperate situation. Mental illness does not respect income or status. And we don't talk about it nearly enough.

Are you aware of the ongoing work of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington? I lost an adult son to worsening schizoaffective disorder. With each psychotic break, the brain damage becomes more severe and there is nothing that you can do if the individual has limited insight into their own illness. Because of limited hospital Inpatient and treatment, the system resists finding a person a danger to himself or others. Many end up in prison. As you know the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, where the mentally ill are now housed. Please spread the word.

Thank you for sharing. My heart goes out to you and your son.

Why don't we have laws that allow for involuntary commitment? It would seem that with at least 25% of the homeless population is certifiable and at least that amount of the prison population. Decent and appropriate care must be funded and implemented yet no politician seems to have the political courage to invest in our eviscerate public mental health system. I would like to see a model bill with sufficient funding & laws that allow for the implementation to be submitted the council and the adjoining jurisdiction. 

We correctly ended a system in which those suffering mental illness were callously warehoused. But we did not replace that cruel system with any new system at all. The result is that the prisons are now being used as de facto mental institutions, while many others who need help are living on the street.

Is there any way that news outlets can be persuaded to wait to report results until every state's polling places have closed? If I lived in California I would hate to be told that the folks in NY, NJ, PA, FL and OH have already decided the outcome of the election before I even got to cast my vote. I worry that the early calls discourage some people from voting, when their votes are still important for state and local elections.

The answer to your question is: no and yes. News outlets already withhold exit poll information and incomplete results until a state's polls close, but no, they aren't going to refuse to announce the news -- we have a winner -- until the polls have closed in Hawaii and the outer Aleutians. This year, however, absentee and mail-in balloting may well mean that we don't know the winner on Election Night. So you might get your wish because of the covid-19 pandemic.

Rep Yoho not only tried to intimidate Rep Ocasio-Cortez, after being outed by The Hill, he issued a non-apology. Her response was one of the most articulate rebuttals I have witnessed. How are we not censuring Rep Yoho?

If you watched AOC's powerful response, you have to conclude that Rep. Yoho successfully censured himself.

Do you believe the Dem. Party are shielding VP Joe Biden? Also why haven't they been more direct in challenging Donald Trump, by allowing VP Joe Biden to be more visible, rather once a week or so. Does VP Joe Biden have the goods to win? Because if he starts to slide in the polls, he may never regain momentum.

Former vice president Biden seems to be doing just fine -- his lead over President Trump, both in national and battleground polls, continues to grow. So I wonder why he or the Democratic Party would hasten to change tactics. I wouldn't.

Chicago citizens have been watching Portland in horror. Federal agents are now slated to come here to supposedly help local law enforcement with drug trafficking and control of illegal firearms. Many of us feel this is a ploy for Trump's reelection efforts and fear that Black citizens, in particular, will be the target of federal agent violence. I'm not sure what our legal rights are but the fact that Lori Lightfoot, our mayor, agreed to this action makes me think that there is legal standing. Any thoughts, based on your reporting, on what we can do as ordinary citizens?

I think Mayor Lightfoot's response was very smart. The move by Trump and Barr is provocative, but there's no plausible threat to federal property in Chicago, unlike in Portland. So if the idea is to send some DEA and ATF personnel to help Chicago police combat drug violence, which is a genuine problem in Chicago, then great. If the federal agents try to goad protesters into some kind of confrontation, Lightfoot can change her stance -- We invited the federal government here to help, not to provoke violence. It's smart to wait to see what happens. 

Trump clearly wants and needs the debates more than Biden. I think Biden should make release of tax returns (as most presidential candidates do) a condition for debate. Even if he doesn't end up following through, it would put the pressure back on Trump. What do you think?

I doubt Biden will try to change the rules. It's ironic, though -- a few months ago, I doubted whether Trump would actually participate in the debates. Now, he's the one who has to be desperate to debate, because he's losing bigly.

Why is there not more outrage over the president wishing Ms. Maxwell well as she sits in prison for allegedly grooming young women for sexual abuse by Epstein? Are those is Washington just ignoring how wealthy his family is getting off the presidency? It does not appear he has separated himself from his business.

President Trump has not separated himself from his business at all, and we know that he is profiting from being in office, but I fear we're seeing just the tip of that iceberg. It's just pure corruption, any way you look at it. And I noticed that the Lincoln Project did an ad asking why Trump went out of his way to be so supportive of Ghislaine Maxwell -- especially in light of the many photos of Trump and Epstein together.

If the poll numbers continue to favor Biden for the next 98 days how soon before Nov 3 could the Biden team start preparing to govern? A blow-out on Nov 3 could effectively permit the president-elect to begin daily public "briefings" which would effectively blot out any noise emanating from the White House, right?

Not really. The transition months would be a split-screen interlude. Yes, everyone would be paying a lot of attention to the president-elect as he assembled his cabinet and laid out his plans. But Trump would still be president, heaven help us.

Given that 1) mail-in voting might take longer to count and 2) Americans (as we're relearning about the virus) like quick answers/fixes -- if we don't know the results for while (hopefully not Bush-Gore amount of time, but still) -- can we keep it together as a country? I know Trump's campaign will start talking to media about "rigged election" cuz already are--and Biden's will likely have to talk within the bounds of law and reason--so does that give Trump's side a leg up? Guess am asking--do you think we make it through this, as a country? Feeling depressed.

I pray for the shortest possible interval between Election Day and the moment we definitively know who won. If it's a landslide, there may be no interval at all. Regardless, I am confident we will make it through to the other side. Election officials in the 50 states and the District of Columbia will certify their results -- no matter what Trump says -- and the electoral college will vote accordingly. And as AG Barr just testified, there is no legal basis for a president to challenge the certified result of an election.

...if they won't enforce them? Just good PR? Looking at you, Walmart, Publix, Ingles, etc.

Mask mandates have no point at all if they are not observed and enforced. 

What are the odds of declaring election day a federal holiday? That would reduce the lines as people who work wouldn’t all have to show up in the evening. Plus it would give them time to get to the few vote voting places still open in their area.

If Election Day has to be on a Tuesday, it should indeed be a federal holiday. I many other Western democracies, elections are scheduled on Sunday so more people can vote. But none of this will happen, because Republicans do not believe it is in their interest for more people to vote. We are the only democracy that discourages participation in this way.

Hi Eugene, I wasn't surprised that Trump refused to pay his respects to John Lewis yesterday -- it revealed yet again how thin his skin is, how small more than his hands are, and how he knows he wouldn't be welcome there (see: Barbara Bush's funeral). I wondered how you felt. Was it better that he didn't feign respect for a beloved man? A tone-deaf political misfire? Another stinkin day in Trumplandia?

It was just more evidence (as if more were needed) of what an aberration Trump is. The nation has elected a president who does not believe in its highest ideals. Or even comprehend them. He is indeed a very small man.

I'm also trying to watch Barr and you nailed his attitude. I can barely stomach him and the Republican toadies. It's literally making me feel ill. How do we hold on to hope as John Lewis instructed us to do, and as I desperately want to do? I just have these overwhelming feelings of doom these days.

Rep. Lewis was optimistic but undaunted and indefatigable. That's how we all must be. Less than 100 days until the election. Focus. 

What are the repercussions for Barr if he lies to the Judiciary committee?

As he well knows, it's a crime to lie to Congress.

We repeatedly hear that the large number of absentee ballots means that a winner won’t be known on election night. But Florida requires all ballots to be received by Election Day, and allows processing before then. If the margin is more than 2-3 points, we’ll know the result that evening, and if Biden wins that would cinch it

Right, in many states we should pretty much know the result on Election Night. In some other states, though, absentees just have to be postmarked by Election Day, which means they will take some time to come in and be counted. Every state should be working right now to design and perfect systems to allow their citizens to vote and to get the count done as quickly as possible.

I visited the public viewing of John Lewis this morning, and was thoroughly moved by the crowds that are coming to honor this giant in American history. As a young man, he agitated those in power from the west end of the Mall. Today he is sitting in honor at the seat of power on the other end of the Mall. We have a long way to go, but I am more hopeful than ever that we will see through the project of John Lewis's America.

You paint a beautiful and hopeful image. Thank you.

Hi Eugene. Good afternoon. I’m always amazed how you manage your schedule – writing at least two columns per week for The Washington Post, which I do enjoy reading and find valuable, and appearing often on MSNBC as a contributor. It seems every time I turn on MSNBC, you are part of a panel discussion. Do you know in advance what days and what shows you will appear on? What is a typical day for you like? Keep up the good work!

One thing about this working-from-home routine is that you can work basically all of the time. Sometimes I think I need to take a remedial course in time management...

How do you think History will view “the Trump Era”? Say, in 50 years, and 100 years? Personally, I would expect that his reign will be known as “The Idiot Presidency”, and, hopefully, the inflection point where America resurrected itself, and returned to the uphill climb of realizing the ideals of Equality, and Freedom, set out by our Founders.

"Idiot Presidency" sounds about right to me. "One-Term Idiot Presidency" sounds even better.


That's it for today, folks, Our time is up. Thanks for participating, 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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