Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: The presidential campaign is entering its Mortal Kombat phase

Sep 01, 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.

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to our weekly chat. We've survived the conventions, and now the presidential campaign is entering its Mortal Kombat phase. President Trump's strategy, no surprise, is to create as much chaos and tell as many lies as is humanly possible. Joe Biden's strategy is to point to all the chaos and all the lies and remind voters that this isn't "Joe Biden's America," as the GOP pretends, but actually "Donald Trump's America." If truth-telling were the deciding factor, Biden would win all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We do live in a post-truth era, however. The Trump campaign is trying hard to demagogue this racial-justice protest moment and create the illusion of momentum for the beleaguered incumbent. But today's Morning Consult poll suggests the momentum is in Biden's direction, especially in the swing states. My column today advises the Democrats to campaign as if they were losing -- cover your flanks, keep the pedal to the metal, keep focus on the administration's disastrous mishandling of the pandemic, and say the words "Donald Trump's America" as often as possible. And remember that while the election is just 63 days away, that's a lifetime in Trumpyears -- thousands of deranged tweets, probably, and hundreds of bizarre outbursts. It was hilarious to see Laura Ingraham trying her best to keep Trump from self-immolating last night -- surely you're not comparing the shooting of Jacob Blake to a golfer choking on a three-foot putt -- and failing spectacularly as Trump lit match after match. Buckle up, and let's get started.

This portion from your column today says it all . . . if African American turnout in 2016 had been higher in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Milwaukee. Yes, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Add Florida and Ohio and it's the swing states that determine an election. The rest of the country be damned. We don't count for anything. And yes, I know, I know, first we have to get rid of Trump and vote but among the myriad of things we have to fix, THIS in my view has to be addressed.

The Electoral College is manifestly unfair, and in the long run it will have to be reimagined or eliminated. But it will be with us for the foreseeable future, because the less-populous states have no incentive to cooperate in its demise -- and every incentive to keep this vestige of a bygone era. 

August 2020 We are beyond a hot mess. Is Trump's idea to have so much chaos going on that no one notices he is the instigator of it ALL??? His blaming everyone else does that mean it's not his problem to solve? Does he believe that the military, law enforcement, and vigilantes/militia are his Michael Cohen "fixers"? He loves creating chaos and people going after each other so no one looks at him and sees his deficiencies. He has created a Trump war inside the USA. I never saw a McCain or Romney flag waving. Do I live in the USA or is this Trump's country? Trumps slogan is "Make America Hate, again". Mission accomplished. A house divided cannot stand.

One thing to remember about Trump is that he is not some kind of genius playing three-dimensional political chess. He is very good at creating chaos, but that chaos is as likely to destroy him as his opponent. Yes, he is firing up his base -- but he was going to find some way to incite them anyway. He is also firing up the Democratic base. And is he winning back any of those suburban voters he desperately needs to have a chance of winning? Ask me in a couple of weeks, when we've seen some more polling.

Why is no one talking about the Trump Administration's suit to declare Obamacare unconstitutional which I understand would leave 20 million or more people without health insurance and throw the entire health care system into chaos. It Is scheduled for oral augment before the Supreme Court on November 10, one week after the election. If the Court were inclined to throw it out that would be the time to do it without being accused of interfering in the election but the consequences would be monumental.

You answer your own question. This isn't being talked about as much as you might like because it won't be heard in time to affect the election. Democrats do point out that Trump is trying to kill the ACA, and its protections for those with preexisting conditions, but there won't be an actual decision for some time.

Eugene- This year more Democrats will be voting by mail; more Republicans will vote at the polls. As a Democrat my election fear is that Trump will have a slight lead election night and will declare victory before absentee ballots are counted. He will create chaos and could have the result pushed to the Supreme Court or to Congress. What could be done proactively to insure an honest result? 

I believe we should prepare for this eventuality. Trump will surely claim victory. Biden will of course not concede. And whether we like it or not, we will have to wait days or (worst case) weeks before final results are tabulated -- and then certified by the states. It could be a very tough time for the nation to endure. But we will all have to hang tough and wait. When the states certify their results and the Electoral College meets to vote, we will have a president. Hopefully, a new one.

I was so dispirited after reading the rave reviews of the GOP convention by so-called "liberal" columnists. Trump is bad enough where he is without letting him live in our heads. And that is what we have done. Anything with Trump's name or picture draws millions of clicks and comments. This feeds a need of some sort, but we need to STOP IT already, stop letting him drive the narrative, stop paying so much attention to him. But how do we do this? As a friend of mine pointed out, there is a lot we really should be paying attention to. All part of the Trump game, but how do we short circuit it and move back to "Yes, we can"? Because we can. Trump is wildly unpopular and I'm convinced he can only win by cheating or stealing the election.

I'm not sure which liberal columnists you're talking about. But yes, Trump knows how to get attention. (Although television rating for the GOP convention were lower than for the Democratic convention. Sad!) Just change the channel. And vote.

Why do many elected Democrats seem afraid to express righteous, appropriate modulated anger about what is happening? They seem to ineffectively prefer to just describe what is happening rather than explain why it shouldn’t. Why?

Not quite sure what you mean by "what is happening" since there's quite a lot going on -- pandemic, recession, protests, police shootings, riots -- and I've heard Democrats who were plenty angry about all of it.

What similarities do you see in the nation's civil climate between 1968 and 2020, and what differences?

The 1968 riots that followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. involved African American participants almost exclusively and were massive, destroying huge areas of major cities. The protests and unrest we have seen this year have been far more diverse, far bigger in terms of number of participants, and far less destructive. Not even in the same league, in terms of damage and deaths. Not remotely close.

Has anyone found evidence that right wing agitators are bringing violence into peaceful demonstrations like umbrella man?

Well, there are the right-wing vigilantes we've seen in Kenosha and Portland. And I suspect there have been right-wing provocateurs in other cities as well, but haven't seen proof.

Why doesn’t Tim Scott, senator from South Carolina, receive more criticism from black leaders about his blatant hypocrisy on issues of race.

Sen. Scott has the right to be wrong, same as anyone else. I won't single him out just because he's Black. Just about the whole Republican caucus in the Senate is just as clueless.

Everyday, pundits ruminate about how the Trump Administration has broken another law or trashed another norm of government. Where is Congress? It's frustrating and demoralizing to hear about this lawlessness and watch while nothing is done to check it. Why does Congress not step up and do its job of oversight?

The House is issuing subpoenas, calling hearings, and otherwise doing whatever it can to perform its duty of oversight. The Republican-led Senate, however, is letting Trump get away with murder (with the partial exception of the Senate Intelligence Committee). Blame Trump, but blame Moscow Mitch, too.

why don't Democrats explain to the American people how the Republicans have mismanaged the country's economy repeatedly over the years, and how the Democrats have saved and improved it? People are under the opposite impression.

I believe Democrats have tried to explain this, pointing to the clear and undisputed historical record. Maybe they need to try harder.

Why does it seem as though no one is paying attention to Trump's blatant ignoring of the Hatch Act this past week? Is everyone of the Peoples' representatives afraid of the President?

Somehow, a consensus appeared to develop that voters wouldn't care about the myriad violations of the Hatch Act, maybe because of the general idea that "real America" is contemptuous of "Washington" and doesn't care about its arcane little rules. I disagree. A law is a law. They broke it, live and in living color.

Mr. Robinson - Thanks for the insightful columns on the self-obsessed Don-The-Con and his corrupt, power-obsessed, administration and supporters. But for Americans who don't want to see the USA slide further in regressive, divisive, neo-fascism, what can they do? What are the best first and next actions to take? Thanks.


Would you agree that we need to cease calling armed white supremacist groups "Miltias"? Militias report to state, county and local governments. Militias drill, have a system of rank and responsibility, a code of ethics, missions, insignia. A group of white guys in camo who love guns and are scared of black people do not a "Militia" make. Let's call them what they are: WHITE TERROR CELLS. Or White ISIS. They're on the wrong side of history--the Confederate side--and are the oldest and worst problem in America.

Agreed. This is the domestic terror threat toward which the Trump administration turns the blindest eye.

Of the almost 63 million votes Trump received in 2016, do we know how many of those votes were against Hillary rather than for Trump? I once saw it might have been 9 million. I ask because I can't imagine the I Hate Biden vote will be of consequence in 2020.

I don't have a figure on the number of anti-Clinton votes, but she was clearly loathed -- unfairly, in my view -- by many people who saw Trump as the lesser evil. Biden is much better-liked. Between now and Election Day, the Trump campaign will do everything it can to demonize Biden and raise his "negatives." 

What is the best response if Trump declares his election loss as illegitimate? Assuming the attorney general and all of his cabinet and the Supreme Court stand with him, what can we as Americans do when he already seems to be prepping the alt right to go into the streets with guns and shoot protesters?

What matters -- the only thing that matters -- is the election result as certified by the states. When the Electoral College votes, it's a done deal. Trump, his cabinet and the whole Trump base can yell, scream, riot, and (surely) try to go to court. But if we keep our nerve and hang tough, they will lose. (And as a practical matter, if the Electoral College hasn't made its decision by January, Nancy Pelosi assumes the powers of the presidency. So there's that.)

What was it about masks that made the President choose that for a cultural clash? It seems that it’s self destructive for him and his re-election. Why choose that, it only makes things worse...

Like I said, he's not playing three-dimensional chess. He wanted the pandemic to be over. He didn't want to wear a mask.

Do you think people really understand what the term "systemic racism" means? If people don't understand what it means how can we end it? 

I think more people understand the phenomenon now than understood it six months ago. And I think that's why you see such racial diversity among the protesters.

Why does everyone assume Trump is making all these decisions out of narcissism and a desire to win when everything he does, from pulling out of Syria, stoking racism, destroying faith in the next election, to making sure the pandemic gets catastrophically worse in the US, benefits Russia? At what point does it become obvious that all this is by design and intentional? Aren’t we negligent if we don’t recognize the obvious because it simply breaks norms and is “inconceivable”?

I don't entirely agree. A lot of what Trump does is, in my view, as random and senseless as it looks. But yes, he does bow to Putin in a way that seems anything but random -- that seems purposeful, or perhaps obligatory. But we simply don't know what Putin has on him. It's possible that the answer is buried in the books of the Trump Organization, and that prosecutors will eventually find it.

You used this phrase in your column and it seems to be what drives him. So the question is, what is he likely to do between now and the election and, if he loses, between then and the inauguration. I find it so frightening I don't want to think about it, but feel we should be prepared. Thank you!

We should assume that it will be bad. And we should resolve that however bad it is, we will get through it. Remember that the president works for us, not the other way around. On November 3, we get to say those immortal words: "You're fired!"


And that's it for today, folks. Thanks for your great questions, 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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