Monday, October 23, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 10/20/2017

"Shields and Brooks on Trump's condolence call, Obamacare fix bipartisanship" PBS NewsHour 10/20/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week's news, including the fracas over President Trump's condolence call to a Gold Star widow, two former Presidents and Sen. John McCain express critiques of politics in the Trump era, the president's reversal on a bipartisan plan to shore up health insurance markets and more.

Hari Sreenivasan:  (NewsHour) It was another news-packed week in Washington, as President Trump dealt with outcry over his comments to a Gold Star family and the public statements of his presidential predecessors.

It's time for the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, let's start with this controversy that sprung from really a tragedy of four soldiers in Niger.  And then we have the President, the chief of staff, a widow, and a congresswoman all involved in this.

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  Well, first, the reason we have it is the President.

Whenever he's on the defensive or can't ask — answer a question, his default position is to attack and criticize.  In this case, he criticized his predecessors for the fact that, 12 days, there had been no communication, no statement from the White House on the four fallen Americans in Niger, or what their mission was, how it happened.

And he so tried to absolve himself by attacking, unfairly and inaccurately, President Obama and President Bush.

And it became so bad, the political bleeding, that they felt it necessary to bring out General John Kelly, the chief of staff of the President.  General Kelly is a four-star Marine general who served himself, whose son Robert was killed in combat in Afghanistan, Marine lieutenant, and about whom he asks people not to talk, not to speak.

When he's introduced, he prefers that not be mentioned.  And it became — his chief of staff obligations obviously superseded.  And he stepped in to stop the bleeding for Donald Trump.  He spoke eloquently.  He smoke movingly.  He spoke from personal experience and conviction.

And then he went too far.  He went on an ad hominem, or ad feminam, attack upon Congresswoman Wilson of Florida, which was inaccurate.  He said that these are private communications.

Probably the third most quoted writing of Abraham Lincoln is his letter to Mrs. Bixby, the mother of five sons who were killed in the Civil War.

So, you know, he defended.  He was on the high ground.  He's got a marvelous record.  But now he's in the mix.  He's now a chief of staff, and he's mixing it up.

David Brooks, New York Times:  Yes, I'm reminded.  What did Karl Marx write, that all historical events happen twice.  First is tragedy, and next is farce.

And so we had the four soldiers killed.  That was the tragedy.  And then Trump made the call.  And one imagines he made the call and repeated, in clumsy form, what John Kelly said, that the soldier died doing what he loved to do with his best — and with the best among them, that he chose to be among the 1 percent, the best among us.

And Donald Trump is not Oprah.  He doesn't speak empathy particularly well.  And I'm sure it was clumsy.  And so that happened.

And then it's off to the circus.  And so we then get a political charge against Trump.  And then Trump lies and says something about Obama, and then it's just back and forth.

And these are like the typical pseudo-events of the Trump era, where it's really about nothing, except we want to have a fight with each other.  And so they're going to have a fight over something, and nobody, to my mind, comes out looking particularly well.

Hari Sreenivasan:  Senator McCain earlier this week, when receiving an award at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, he — I want to get his quote right — he spoke out about — quote — “half-baked, spurious nationalism.”

But what was interesting was, later in the week, just yesterday, we had both Presidents before Trump, Mr.  Bush and Mr.  Obama, in separate speeches come out and make statements.  They didn't call Trump out by name.

But let's take a listen to what they said.

Former President Barack Obama:  Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we have got politics infecting our communities.


Former President Barack Obama:  Instead of looking for ways to work together and get things done in a practical way, we have got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas.

Former President George W. Bush:  Bigotry seems emboldened.  Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.  We have seen nationalism distorted into nativism.  We have forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.

Hari Sreenivasan:  Mark?

Mark Shields:  Yes, there's no question whom they're talking about.

They don't have to say Donald Trump's name in all three cases.  And John McCain — George W. Bush had been quite circumspect, quite silent during the eight years of Barack Obama, even, if we recall, during the debate in South Carolina in 2016 when he accused George W. Bush of knowing that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and yet sending Americans into combat and some to death.

But McCain, I think, speaks from a position that is unassailable.  I mean, this is a man that Trump said he is not a hero.  He was — he spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war being tortured every day.  And he said — and the rest of his life has been devoted to public service.  He hasn't closed any big real estate deals, so he doesn't qualify.

But I thought — I think the challenge has been laid down.  I mean, Jeff Flake has picked it up.  Bob Corker has picked it up.  To some degree, Ben Sasse has.  But what are the other Republicans going to do?  Are they just going to remain silent?

David Brooks:  Yes.

And Steve Bannon has a theory about world history, and among them, that the post-world — post-World War II international order was a mistake and we should get rid of it.  And Donald Trump sort of has that theory.

And no one has made the case for what was a bipartisan consensus in favor of that order, and in favor of a certain story of America, that we're a country of immigrants, that we're a country of the future, that we're not a country and blood and soil.

And so Bannon and Trump have had the intellectual field to themselves, at least as far as elected officials have gone.  And it's true that neither Obama, Bush, or probably McCain are ever going to run for office again, but at least they're making the case.

At least the counterargument is beginning to be made.  And I think what's occurring to a lot of people is that, first, we're in a 50-year debate about what the 21st century — well, maybe an 83-year debate — about what the 21st century is going to look like, and it's probably going to debate between some form of populism, and some form of openness and diversity.

And so it's occurring to people that they have to get involved in that debate.

And second, I think, as Steve Bannon has gone to pick off other Republicans, it's become clear to a lot of people in the Republican Party, there's no escaping this debate, that you can't hide and hope you will get ignored and that Bannon will pass you over.

Mark Shields:  Even in Wyoming.

David Brooks:  Even in Wyoming.

They're coming after you.

Mark Shields:  Yes.

David Brooks:  And so you might as well take a side.  And so I think we're finally beginning to see some two-sided debate out of this.

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