Monday, May 07, 2018

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 5/4/2018

"Shields and Brooks on Trump’s legal troubles, House chaplain politics" PBS NewsHour 5/4/2018


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join John Yang to discuss the week’s news, including the media blitz by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani over the payment to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, a new low in the unemployment rate and the attempted firing of the House chaplain by Speaker Paul Ryan.

John Yang (NewsHour):  But first, a lot can happen in a week.  The President can again shake up his legal team, and then have one of those new lawyers contradict him, and a fired congressional chaplain can get his job back.

Mirabile dictu.

That’s for you, David.


John Yang:  Here to make sense of it all, the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

We should explain, David Brooks just back from Italy, so a little Latin.

David Brooks, New York Times:  Apparently, where you have been studying Sir Thomas Aquinas, apparently.

John Yang:  Exactly.

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  I thought he had been to Latin America.


John Yang:  We have had this spectacle this week or the scene this week of the President getting a new lawyer, the star of his legal team, Rudy Giuliani, coming out and contradicting him.  Today, the President said, well, he will get his facts straight, he’s new on the job.

And then Giuliani issuing this clarification.

David, what do you make of all this?

David Brooks:  Well, when one person tells a lie, it’s what a tangled web we weave.

When you have got 60 or 70 people doing it, it’s like a universe of tangle.  And so we have got just a universe of when did he pay off, who did the payoff, did Trump know, when did he know?

Frankly, I find it all secondary.  The headline here is that the President of the United States allegedly paid hush money to a porn star.  I mean, what else do we need for the scandal?  That sort of covers it for me.

And so if people are willing to tolerate that in their President, then whether the campaign — whether the money counts as a campaign donation or not, which is one of the things being argued, to me, that is not secondly.  It’s tertiary or something else.  The main fact is, we have come to this point in our country where that seems normal.

John Yang:  So those little details don’t matter.

Mark, what do you think?

Mark Shields:  I welcome David back, but I have to disagree in this sense.

The “Access Hollywood” tape during the campaign showed that it wasn’t a big factor to at least Trump voters at that point.  But I think I will go back to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and President Kennedy dispatched former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to brief President Charles de Gaulle of France on what the United States had found, what the Soviets had placed in the way of missiles in Cuba.

And after the meeting, Dean Acheson asked General de Gaulle, do you want me to show you the secret photos that we have?  And he said, no, no, said General de Gaulle, the word of the President of the United States is all that I need.

Now, fast forward.  We have a man who is just incapable of telling the truth.  Less than a month ago, on Air Force One, asked by the press, do you know anything about this payment, the $130,000, no.  And now, of course, he does.

And it reached the point where The Wall Street Journal, the bible of American business, which has been sympathetic to President Trump generally, especially on his economic policy, said he’s compiling a record editorially that increases the likelihood that few will believe him.  “Mr. Trump should worry that Americans will stop believing anything he says.”

And the word of the President of the United States is not something to trifle with.  And he has trifled with it, and he has fractured it.

John Yang:  David, you were outside the Beltway, way outside the Beltway.


John Yang:  And I know that you think that perhaps we’re getting a little carried away with this focus on Stormy Daniels and payments and all this sort of thing.

What do you mean by that?

David Brooks:  Yes.

Well, you know, I do think the norms that he’s violated and the way he’s degraded public debate in the nation are a serious thing.  We have talked about that for three years.

And yet, when you think the important things that have happened this week, probably the China-U.S.  trade talks were a very big deal.  The North Korea-South Korea thing is promising all of a sudden.  The economy is going great.

And so apparently a lot of people have made the calculation, he has got always a bunch of scandals that those people in Washington care about, but when you think the big substantive things, things seem to be going fine.

And that’s the calculation a lot of people are making.  And there are times when I think we get a little overhyped up about whatever Rudy Giuliani said this morning and we do lose sight in Washington [DC] of things like the China trade talks.

And I hate to sound like the earnest middlebrow guy, but that’s the calculation people have made.  And I think the threat to our norms is serious and just poisonous to our country.  But other people have said, no, I just care about the substance.

And this week at least, the substance is pretty good on what the Trump administration has achieved.

Mark Shields:  The lowest unemployment rate since President Bill Clinton is certainly impressive and certain welcome.  And no American can be anything other than happy about it.

But the Presidency is historically and actually, above all else, a place of moral leadership.  And you lose that, and I don’t care how big the Dow Jones is, I don’t care what the corporate profits are.

And, you know, I’m not quite as sanguine about the economy as David is.  I think the tax cut is the equivalent economically of catnip.  We know that 86 million middle-class families will have taxes raised.  And we know that 83 percent of the tax cuts will go to the top 1 percent when it’s settled.

So, that’s really not unimportant, and it certainly affects the way that people live.  But I thought the piece with Jim Tankersley, we’re still seeing where wages are not rising.  And, you know, to me, I’m just worried that the Presidency itself will be a diminished and tarnished office, and we will have tough point…


Mark Shields:  … trust in that Presidency.


David Brooks:  It will be.  It will be.

And the effects will be long-lasting and they will be devastating for faith in politics and for the society.  But those of us who are critical of Donald Trump can’t hide from the facts that go against our story.

And so I was against the Trump tax cuts.  But the early evidence is that they’re working better than I thought.  And so, in the first quarter, among S&P companies, capital expenditures are up 39 percent.  That’s a seven-year high.  That’s far higher than a lot of us thought.

Stock buybacks, which is just giving people — to shareholders, that’s only 16 percent.  So the evidence from just the first quarter seems to be that what the Trump people told us would happen is happening, that companies are reinvesting the money.

A lot of things Trump said about North Korea are terrifying, and yet if it has an effect of unnerving the North Koreans, so they’re more flexible — and we don’t know if that’s the case, but there are some possible implications — well, then maybe some of those terrifying tweets had some effect.

And so it’s important to oppose what’s opposable and what is reprehensible and offensive.  And we have been doing that, as I say, for three years.  But it’s also important to see reality.  And the more serious opposition will, frankly, be on disastrous policies or not disastrous policies.

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