Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: The degeneration of our democracy

Aug 04, 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. Well, last week we buried one of the greatest Americans of my lifetime, John Lewis. This week, in an interview with the amazing Jonathan Swan of Axios, President Trump reacted to his death by saying: "I don't know him. He didn't come to my inauguration." There, in a nutshell, the degeneration of our democracy... So here we remain, buffeted by multiple overlapping crises, "led" by an egotistical buffoon. My column today says it's just as well when Trump is spending all his time on Twitter being our troll-in-chief, because he makes everything worse when he actually tries to do his job as commander-in-chief. But that view, while correct, is more of a coping mechanism than a remedy. If you're in a mood to worry, then focus on these two things: Bullied by Trump, schools across the nation are about to open, many prematurely, and likely will add fuel to the covid-19 inferno. And Trump seems to have realized that his only play in November is voter suppression, which he will try to accomplish by any means necessary. Keep yourselves and your families safe. And resolve to surmount any and all obstacles Trump places between you and the ballot box. Let's get started.

Trump bad mouths the election proces every day. Calling it rigged and stacked against him! We have voted by mail for more than a decade and we like the convenience. Can anyone or the public counter his bogus statements? Talk about rigged elections and corrupt elections? Florida is the master of this as they harvest nursing home ballots by the hundreds of thousand and win elections with this tack.

Millions of Americans already vote by mail, and many states have taken measures to make this practice much more widely available. Trump's bad-mouthing rhetoric is just hot air -- and may be counterproductive for him, if his base takes him seriously while the rest of us don't. I worry about his ongoing attempt to sabotage the Postal Service. I also worry about jurisdictions having enough same-day polling places to accommodate those who can't or won't vote by mail. Massive, historic turnout would solve all problems. That's what needs to happen.

How can the presidential debates be fair when Trump consistently lies on a scale orders of magnitude greater than any other candidate in history? Are there any plans to provide real-time fact-checking during the debates, or will Trump just be able to get away with a stream of falsehoods about both himself and his opponent? With so much riding on the debates this time-- they may be Trump's last chance to reset the race— this is a serious concern.

Jonathan Swan gave a master class in fact-checking Trump, but that will be hard to do in a debate setting. I think what Joe Biden will have going for him is contrast. If he's factual, statesmanlike and non-crazy, I think he'll be fine. Trump will just make stuff up; Biden will probably call it out as "malarkey." But it's hard to imagine Trump giving a performance that would convince a single Biden voter to switch.

With that heartless assessment of the staggering U.S. death toll from coronavirus, Trump joins other memorable orators, like almost-as-great President Abraham Lincoln and his famous "It is what it is" address memorializing Civil War dead at Gettysburg. Or Reagan's bold challenge regarding the Berlin Wall, "Mr. Gorbachev, it is what it is". Never mind FDR's stirring declaration following the attack on Pearl Harbor, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941, it was what it was." I'd like to know how this callous moron's approval rating is NOT below 30 percent?

An excellent question, and I don't know the answer. How do any discernible number of Americans think this is remotely acceptable? Beats me.

I’ve seen this new plea to the voters from conservatives such as David French and Peggy Noonan that they should absolutely reject Trump, but spare their GOP Senator. Even though Trump is bad and deserves to go, the Senators who deliberately ignored or even excused all that was bad deserve to stay. Other than Romney (who isn’t up for re-election this year anyway), can you think of any objective reason for mercy for Collins, Graham, Tillis, McSally, Gardner, Ernst, etc., if you really think Trumpism is a cancer to be excised?

No mercy. Romney might get a pass, but the others deserve to go down. They are Trump's enablers and they should be held accountable.

What do you think will shake out of the deadlock over extending unemployment benefits? I can only imagine that every day that drags on without an agreement, people see Congress even more unfavorably.

You are right that the approval rating of Congress is suffering right now. That has to be secondary to the imperative of passing a new aid package that is adequate to the situation. Democrats have a unified position; Republicans are all over the map. In the end, I think Pelosi and Schumer will get the lion's share of what they want.

I am enjoying the parade of capable women touted as VP to Joe Biden. I wish everyone would get off their cases and not try to make news out of pitting them against each other. Also, I see no problem in delaying the choice or reading anything into it. It might make an interesting event to announce it at the Democratic convention. Do you see anything unusual going on in the background here?

There's no news here -- yet. Biden's advisers should stop talking up or talking down the candidates. This is the most consequential decision Biden will make during the campaign, and he has to pick someone he can work well with -- and someone who could, if necessary, perform the duties of the presidency. Nobody should try to rush him. In fact, nobody is rushing him except a bunch of political writers and pundits. 

Isn't Trump's demand that some of the purchase price go into the U.S. Treasury socialism? Or is it plain old extortion?

Trump's demand that some of what Microsoft might pay for TikTok is one of the weirdest things I've ever heard come out of his mouth, and that's saying something. What? On what theory does the government get a cut of an acquisition deal? I wonder what Trump's supporters on Wall Street think about this.

A sobering thought occurred to me recently. We all know that Americans tend to rally around the President during a crises initiated by a foreign power (first Iraq war, 9/11, etc.). I'm sure Putin is also well aware of this, and might start something. I don't mean a full-fledged invasion or the launching of ICBMs, but perhaps an invasion of a non-NATO ally. Would he go so far to help Trump win reelection? Or am I being paranoid?

At this point, paranoia is a perfectly sensible worldview. Maybe the most sensible. I don't foresee the scenario you lay out, however. For one thing, Trump's reaction would not likely be to defend NATO (which he seems to despise) against Putin (whom he seems to worship). So there would be nothing for Americans to rally around. Also, he has proved that even presented with a slam-dunk opportunity to look presidential -- the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests -- he just can't bring himself to do it. He knows how to do only one thing, politically: drive wedges. He doesn't know how to broaden his appeal.

Hi Eugene. I'm a senior who has spent my life looking for the good in people, but I'm struggling anymore to find it in most of the GOP Senators. I get that they are between a rock and a hard place, but they have spent 4 years now watching the damage being done to our democracy and democratic institutions, unwilling to risk their seats to stand up to trump or McConnell. Now, tens of millions of Americans are suffering, and it continues to grow. At what point do we stop presuming they love our country when they won't say to themselves, "My re-election be damned - I must do what is best for our country and our people before it's too late"? Having to wait until Jan. 20 before a Biden administration can even begin to address the health and economic crises is 6 months away. What is wrong with them?

Political cowardice. Caring more about their own fortunes than the country's well-being. They deserve to go down. Let a new GOP rise from the ashes -- but first, reduce Trump's GOP to ash.

I was surprised at how Cain's death struck me. most definitely NOT a supporter. whether he got covid at trump's tulsa rally or not. here was a Black man, 74 years old so high risk, traveling around meeting people maskless during a pandemic. the overwhelming stupidity of it all. the number of wasted lives because of trump's unwillingness to meet this virus crisis head on & the GOP's complicity & silence. it makes me angry and sad.

It made me angry and sad as well. I didn't know Herman Cain and certainly didn't agree with his political views. But I admire his remarkable up-from-nothing life story; and he had a genuine career in the business world. (He was a far more accomplished businessman than Trump.) He had cheated death before, and I can't escape the conclusion that he could, and should, still be with us.

It makes me wonder if Biden has difficulty making decisions. It seems like he has had plenty of time to make a choice. Maybe I'm just nervous about him. I don't like wishing my life away, but I am anxiously waiting for November. I will have my ballot in the mail the day after I receive it.

I think you're wrong to worry about Biden's ability to make decisions based on his veep selection process. There's nothing unusual or dilatory about it. (Does anybody ever remember how long any candidate took to choose a running mate? No.) There's no great hurry. Biden should take the time to get it right.

Does the country really need a Presidential Debate? Can’t the Democrats just not participate? Anyone paying the slightest attention knows the difference between candidates.

The debates are such a tradition that I think voters expect and maybe demand them. No, they probably won't change many minds.

Why have leaders failed to prioritize available and affordable child care to bolster the U.S. economy? It seems harder to find and far more costly than 35 years ago.

If you recall, this was one of the things Trump was going to do. Child care was supposedly Ivanka's issue. Maybe Biden will finally get it done.

I was disappointed to see she was not included in recent lists of possible VPs. I'm very impressed with her leadership in Atlanta (defiance if thevgivernor) and her fearless responses to Trump's nonsense; the latest being his dismissal of John Lewis's reputation. Bottoms said Trump is delusional and it's almost blasphemy for him to talk about Lewis. Do you foresee a good political future for Mayor Bottoms?

I think she has a bright political future and how she runs for higher office. The vice presidency might be a stretch right now, especially given the more experienced competition.

Should Joe Biden Pardon Trump in 2021 if/when or in advance of Trump being found guilty of Insurance and bank fraud, hush money payments, and tax evasion (or any other grifter type activity)?

No.

I don't understand how the GOP can be against mail in voting. The only people I have ever seen mail in a ballot are the affluent and elderly. Or is this just a straw man argument that the GOP is trying to scare people with? Methinks this could hurt them more than it hurts anyone else.

If history is a guide, scaring people away from voting by mail will have disproportionate impact against Republicans. But this is no ordinary year, because of covid-19, so it's unclear who would suffer most. 

Regarding Trump's recent devastating interviews with Mr. Swann and Mr. Wallace, do you think more people in the media are finding it easier to challenge Trump face-to-face? Are they seeing him more as a TV performer and less as a bonafide leader? As always, thank you for your insights.

Interviewing Trump is hard, because of the way he filibusters and lies. Chris Wallace and Jonathan Swan showed us how it can be done. But remember that those were sit-down interviews, one on one. In a news conference setting, reporters have no chance to get anywhere because Trump is in control. He can tell a lie and then turn to the next question, and if all else fails he can just walk away. 

The interview with Axios was mind boggling. He has no grasp of information, is vindictive and petty, and he still wishes an accused sex abuser well. And his claim to have done more for Black Americans and John Lewis is reprehensible. With all of that on display, any idea how crazy it will be until Nov. 3?

Mega-crazy. Insanely crazy. Incomprehensibly crazy. 

Can Trump be prosecuted for tax and other fraud while in office?

Not while in office, according to the guiding Justice Department opinion. But at 12:01 pm on Inauguration Day...

We know Trump will throw out plenty of total lies in his debates with Biden this fall. How will/should the debate moderators handle the falsehoods he is guaranteed to utter?

With a shovel. Our time is up. Thanks, as always, for joining in, and I hope to see you all 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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