Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Where to even begin?

Sep 15, 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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Hi, everybody, and welcome to our chat. Hard to know where to begin today. Politics, with just seven weeks to go before the election? Social justice, with a $12 million settlement just announced for Breonna Taylor's family? World affairs, with President Trump trumpeting the peace deal between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain? Climate change, with unprecedented fires still raging up and down the West Coast, skies turned Martian-red by thick smoke and about three dozen people dead thus far? More climate change, with five tropical cyclones whirling at the same time in the Atlantic and the most dangerous of the pack, Hurricane Sally, beginning to dump Harvey-life historic amounts of rain on the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts? And it's only Tuesday. Let's get started, somehow.

Oh, of course, I forgot to mention the most obvious starting point of all: Bob Woodward's new book, "Rage," in which President Trump repeatedly admits -- on tape -- that he knew how deadly covid-19 was but lied to the American people in downplaying the danger. Yes, I think that's the place to start.

Would you agree that Bob Woodward is the “bad guy” for not reporting the president’s knowledge of the severity of Covid-19 transmission is really presidential projection? There are certainly hundreds of other government officials with that same knowledge of pandemic severity including Azar, Hahn, Redfield, Birx and yes, even Fauci. Why are they all essentially silent? They should have been united in confronting the president and stressing the president is lying to the public. The fact is the president knew it in February. Trump blaming Woodward is pointless and is simply playing the media to look at something else again. The media must stop looking at bright shiny objects that Trump constantly throws out to deflect blame from himself. This is on Trump’s watch, 200,000 dead and counting, a crushed economy and untold suffering because of it.

Full disclosure: I've known Bob Woodward for 40 years; he and Ben Bradlee hired me at The Washington Post; and he is a friend. That said, the "blame Woodward" ploy is just that -- a distraction from the fact that Trump lied constantly and fumbled in a way that surely cost tens of thousands of lives, and the fact that the officials you cite all knew he was lying. Bob has tremendous integrity as a journalist, and he has a method that should be familiar to everyone by now. He writes the "second draft" of history, and had he tried to alert the world to Trump's lies earlier I don't think he would have had nearly as much impact, simply because it would have been just some quotes divorced from their full context. He got the book out in time for the election, so people can take its findings into account. Bob is the good guy in this story.

Mr. Robinson, do you think we will know the results of the election on the night of the election? Thank you.

We should be prepared not to know the result on election day. That should be our expectation -- that we'll have to wait at least several more days to be sure. That said, it is possible that we'll know on election night. If there's a massive blue wave, I think we'll know.

What do you think Biden/Harris can do to restore confidence in our pandemic economy?

I think the economy will recover when people are confident that they can go to work, eat at restaurants, go to movies etc. without undue risk of contracting a potentially deadly disease. The ultimate solution is a vaccine. But in the interim, it should be possible to drive infection rates low enough that we could be like, say, Germany -- not back to normal, but pretty close. The first order of business, I think, is to get those infection rates down to European or even Asian levels. Then much will be possible.

Election night early results will be painfully inaccurate. Why release anything until ALL votes are recorded in each individual place? The timing of the votes will be very lopsided, we can tell that in advance.

I believe all the major broadcast and cable networks will be extremely cautious in how they report results. But there are plenty of internet "news" sites that will probably be irresponsible and release partial results, selectively. I'm sure some people will be deliberately misled about what's happening. I hope most people turn to responsible news sources -- which will, indeed, release incomplete numbers, but with the context necessary to understand them.

Hi Gene -- thanks for taking questions today and for this vital public service that you provide. Because it's Tuesday, some Democrats are kvetching about how VP Biden needs to "get out there" more, because of course Trump, who has nothing else to run on, is trotting out the old and tired “Sleepy Joe is hiding” shtick. It might just be me, but I prefer a presidential candidate who's aware of the dire public health situation we're in and who's trying to model appropriate behavior...unless the current occupant, who instead of leading chooses to brazenly politicize the deaths of nearly 200,000 people who gets some sort of sick pleasure out of people risking their lives for him. I’m just as nervous as the next person about the election, but this Monday morning quarterbacking is counterproductive and just really irritating. Your thoughts?

I think it would be irresponsible for Biden to imitate Trump and fly around the country holding unsafe rallies at which people are bound to get sick. And I don't think Trump-style rallies would particularly help him. Biden is doing the right thing by traveling to hotly contested states -- but not endangering lives unnecessarily. 

How can we convince voters that we urgently need to vote out Trump in order to save the planet? By analogy to covid-19 -- if we had acted sooner as scientists were urging, the problem would have been easier to solve?

Anybody who cares about the future of the planet need only watch the tape of Trump's drive-by visit to California yesterday, during which he totally rejected -- even made fun of -- the voluminous, peer-reviewed science that underlies our understanding of climate change. He's a denier, pure and simple. Doesn't believe in it. Still thinks it's a Chinese hoax. It is tragic that the leader of the richest, most powerful nation on earth holds such boneheaded views. 

Hi, Gene: Thank you for all you do to illuminate and keep the conversation in this country going. Given the high stakes of this election, what can we do to get through the next four years if President Trump is re-elected. Many of us are so battle-weary as it is.

If all the registered voters who feel as you and I do about Trump actually vote, he will be defeated in a massive landslide. So let's not spend time on Plan B just yet. Let's make Plan A -- voting Trump out -- a tremendous, historic success. It's up to us. We can make it happen.

Hi Gene, thanks for doing these. I look forward to them every week! Do you have any idea how Trump supporters can keep their heads from exploding? I'm baffled. The latest news is that Trump told the truth to Bob Woodward -- media elite and ultimate Washington insider -- and lied to his supporters. How can they still imagine Trump is on their side? He doesn't really hate the same people they hate - he sucked up to Woodward. Owning the liberals means they have to die of a nasty disease. What is going on? How can people still have so much cognitive dissonance? Do you understand it at all? If so, help me understand it! Thank you.

Feelings are not always logical, and Trump's loyal base is bonded to him by the feeling that he stands up for them by tormenting the "elites" these Trump supporters despise. Never mind that he grew up rich, owes all that he has to Daddy's money, dodged military service, never did an honest day's work in his life, holds a Bible like a cheap gadget in an infomercial, believes there's a book of the Bible called "Two Corinthians," cheated on his third wife with a porn star... I could go on and on. The problem for Trump is that his loyal base is a minority. If the anti-Trump majority votes in big numbers, there is no way Trump can win.

This morning you mentioned that your columns on climate change don’t get a strong reader response like some of your political columns do. I’m just curious how “reader response” shapes your writing. Do you read all of the reader responses? Do you consciously aim to get a high reader response? Do you consider reader comments valuable or useful? I seldom comment on articles in the Post, but I sometimes wonder if I should be expressing my opinion more often. I guess I’m wondering if my comments matter, or if I am just wasting my time.

Thanks for the question, and the answer is complicated. I do pay attention to whether a column is among the most-read pieces on the site, and I pay attention to how many comments a column gets. But I try not to let any of that affect what I write. Climate change is something I know a lot about -- I covered the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992; my wife worked for many years at EPA and was involved in the process that led to the Kyoto Protocol -- and it's something I care a lot about. So I write about it when I feel I need to, even though I know I could get a bigger and more passionate response, and rocket to the top of the most-read lists, with a slash-and-burn takedown of Trump's latest outrage. I can't read all the comments but I do usually skim through them and get a sense of how my words were received -- whether they got across the point I was trying to make, or not. So yes, reader response does matter to me, and I really welcome it.

Please, please share your wisdom on how to digest this. Thanks so much for your chats, in addition to your beautiful & hopeful columns.

I think Caputo is a wacko who has no business occupying any position of responsibility in the government. I also worry that he might be undergoing some sort of mental health crisis.

I live in Utah and I have written and called Senator Mike Lee’s office times too numerous, always calling out Trump’s lies, Trump’s contradictions, Trump’s scientific illiteracy, and more. I never get the courtesy of a response. By contrast, Senator Mitt Romney’s office always responds. Have I been wasting my time trying to convince Senator Lee to speak out against Trump?

I don't think it's ever a waste of time to let your senator or representative know what you think. But if Lee hasn't responded yet, given all of Trump's transgressions thus far, I hope you're not expecting him to show courtesy now. 

Can one safety assume that Mattis and Kelly were sources for the Atlantic piece? Clearly the fact that Kelly hasn't denied anything is telling.

Kelly's is the loudest silence I've ever heard.

If I lived in Nevada I would be furious with the Trump campaign for creating a super spreader site that will raise the infection rate across the state. I hope those who do live there feel the same way.

I hope so too.


That's all 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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