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Shields and Brooks on gun violence and how leaders responded to Orlando shooting

June 17, 2016 at 7:43 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including reactions to Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando, whether President Obama should use the term “radical Islam,” the possibility of increased gun control, Donald Trump’s sliding popularity and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ softening attitude towards Hillary Clinton.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.


Gentlemen, begin by the terrible thing that happened last weekend in Orlando, this 29-year-old man with — who had displayed erratic behavior, Mark, through much of his life. Are there any lessons from this?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I’m not sure there are, Judy.

I was — I have been amazed how polarized our nation is. Ordinarily and historically, events this tragic — and there have been none really this tragic, I guess, in just sheer magnitude — but there is sort of a uniting feeling in the country.

And that’s been missing. We can blame our politics and our politicians. And we will. But it’s — I think it reflects the country. There’s just — we live in a couple of different worlds. Republicans overwhelmingly think it’s a matter of terrorism, and Islamic terrorism, and that that’s where all the attention — and Democrats overwhelmingly respond that it’s the availability and the promiscuous availability of weapons without background checks or adequate controls.

And so I guess the — tragedies like this have historically brought out the best in the country, and I don’t think that’s happened this time. It definitely hasn’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We think of 9/11.

MARK SHIELDS: Think of 9/11, exactly. Think of other times of tragedy, and even Charleston.


DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: I actually take of a cheerier view, I think.

I thought there was an amazing amount of simple, unadorned grief and sympathy for the victims and the victims’ families. And the fact a large percent of them were gay wasn’t as big an issue.

That was my perception, that people of all sides said, these were human beings, God’s creatures, who were killed. And there was an outpouring of simple grief for the people.

On the political stuff, obviously, the gun thing is divisive. But I thought most people said, well, this is both an act of terrorism and a hate crime at the same time. And it can be both. And I think that’s what really just struck me about the week is, sometimes, the divisions we have between psychology and politics and religion, those divisions don’t really make sense in practice.

And we have seen this so many times with so many different shooters. They’re the same personality type. You begin with a sense of humiliation, personal failure, personal disappointment, personal injury. That turns into a sense of grievance, that the problem is not me, the problem is the world.

Then that turns into sort of moral outrage at the evil people who are doing this. Then that gets weaponized by sort of some radical ideology that allows me to justify the violence. And then you walk down the line.

And they walk down these same series of steps, and it’s just the social isolation of young, angry men.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But when — your — to your point, Mark, when you look at the reaction of the political leadership, Donald Trump focused on terrorism, on what he likes to refer to as radical Islam, very different from the emphasis, at least, from President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, no question.

And while I agree with David and the points he makes, and I think they’re strong points, Judy, I would just add that the FBI is coming in for some, I think, undeserved criticism that somehow — this was a man with bad thoughts, outrageous thoughts.

We don’t arrest people in this country. We don’t incarcerate them. There is no thought control. And it is acts. And there weren’t any acts, other than reportedly his abuse of his wife, which doesn’t rise to the level of the FBI, and is local law enforcement.

But you’re absolutely right. First of all, President Obama is at his best at times like this. And it’s a terrible thing to say, but he was at Charleston, he was at Newtown, he was after Gabby Giffords. And in a strange way, it brings out the best in him.

There is a cool detachment about Barack Obama, sort of a remoteness emotionally most times. And he was — he’s so accessible in listening to the victims’ families and the survivors and how much it means to them and how genuine they feel he is.

And I thought he had a choice to go on the LGBT — there are three elements to it’s — the LGBT, obviously, the terrorism and the guns. And he thought the guns were the most available, where they may get some action. And that’s what he chose to emphasize.

As far as the others, I thought Hillary Clinton was quite measured, very calibrated, responsible, and stood in stark contrast — a little more hawkish than the president, and stood in dark contrast to Donald Trump, who squandered what is the one area where Republicans have a decided advantage, which is national security and sort of homeland security.

And he just — I mean, first of all, congratulating himself at the outset, and then insinuating in innuendo that the president was somehow involved was beyond the pale. It makes him unacceptable as a national figure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you size up their reaction?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, somewhat agreement.

If I had to rank them, if one ranks these things, I thought Hillary Clinton’s reaction was the best. It combined both the gun issue, the gay issue, but also the Islamic radicalism issue, if we want to use that word. And I give her credit for mentioning that.

And I do think, in acts like this, it’s not driven by religious faith, but it’s driven and shaped by a bin Ladenist, jihadist ideology. And I think the president is wrong not to say that.

I have a quote in my column today by Peter Bergen, who is a friend of — and he said, saying Islamic terror is not related to Islam is like saying the Crusades are not related to Christianity and their view of Jerusalem.

It is sort of a radical politicized version of a faith ideology. And for the president to say that, A, is not the truth, but, B, it reeks of a political correctness which ends up driving people to Donald Trump.

And so I think he should use the term. Every other world leader uses the term. We can all distinguish between the few terrorists who are radical Islamists between — and the tens and hundreds of millions of Muslims who are peaceful, law-abiding, normal human beings.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I disagree with David.

I think the syllable is very important. Radical Islam is the defamation of a faith, of a faith, whereas radical Islamist, yes, definitely, or radical Islamism.

But that is a profound difference. And when you start slipping into denigration of an entire faith, which obviously is the position that Donald Trump has been comfortable with, an area where he’s been comfortable in, it is not only not in the national interest. It is dishonest and it is fomenting further strife.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Or the president called it a political talking point, this insistence on Trump’s part that he use that term.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I am actually not comfortable with the phrase radical Islam in part for that reason. People who are faithful to the Muslim faith don’t turn into terrorists when they become more faithful.


DAVID BROOKS: But there is sort of ideology sort of attached to Islam, as there used to be to Christianity, or as there sometimes still is to Christianity or Judaism, which is a secular political ideology that cloaks itself in religious garb.

And we could call it bin Ladenism. You can call it jihadism. But it is the shaping ideology that magnetizes people like this and sets them off on the killing sprees.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the things that has come out of this, very quickly, is the move in Congress on the part of Democrats, Mark, to pass some kind of legislation on gun control. Do you see any possibility of a change there?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there is a change in mood. I don’t think — we’re in an election year. We’re four months away from an election.

I think there is a good development, Judy, quite frankly, in the group that’s assembled by Stanley McChrystal and the Veterans Coalition For Common Sense, Mark Kelly, to try and bring control, some sensible background checks. And I think there is where it’s going to have to come from. I really do.

But the Democrats have an advantage. Make no mistake about it. If you don’t fly, you don’t buy, which is, I think, a dangerous position in a civil liberties basis, because Donald Trump in charge of a don’t-fly list is something that should sober every American citizen in who he would put on it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see it going anywhere?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t, just because past is prologue. And after all the different killings we have had, it hasn’t gone anywhere.

Susan Collins has an attempt at some sort of moderated — the senator from Maine — some sort of moderated list that she hopes some Republicans get, Democrats get behind, but the prospects in the House are slim.

And I would say, you know, I support all this legislation, but I’m not sure it would be super effective. This guy was actually looked into by the FBI. He actually had checks. And it’s just very tough to predict human behavior.


MARK SHIELDS: Judy, there is no reason in the United States for civilian circulation of assault weapons, none. It’s indefensible as a product, shouldn’t be manufactured in the United States, any more than bazookas should be or flamethrowers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you both about Donald Trump.

Political path ahead, David. He was in — having a lot of tense words this week with Republican leadership with Congress, with other Republicans in his own party. His poll ratings are slipping. What do you see?

DAVID BROOKS: I see mild to mass panic in the Republican Party, because he really is sliding. We have talked about it before in the last few weeks.

He was even with Hillary Clinton, and in the last three weeks, it’s just been zoom. He’s collapsing. And he’s picking fights with the Republicans. Any sense of buy-in is now just fraying. I don’t know if they are going to do anything against him.

But to me, the significance of this week politically was, would the country sort of rally around him on sort of xenophobic or anti-terror mood? And the answer so far from the polling is, no, he didn’t get any help from this week politically.

And, therefore, I think there is a real hardening against him among an awful lot of Americans, and his political prospects, at least this week, seem extremely dire.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see?

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, the stop Trump movement, which the death rattle sounded, and then it seems to come back again. The old maxim in politics, you don’t beat somebody with nobody.

And there is nobody. There is no alternative. Everybody wants an alternative — not everybody, but probably a lot of Republicans. Certainly, those on the ballot in November would like to have an alternative, but there isn’t.

You put a face on that, and there is nobody there. So he will be the nominee. He’s got the strong argument: I have got more votes than anybody in the history of Republican primaries.

And, obviously, they are not going to try and take it away from him. But I’m reminded of 1972, when Democrats tried to stop George McGovern, for the very same reason. They thought he was going to lose, and it cost them seats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last quick points. Bernie Sanders made a statement last night. Let’s listen to it, a part of it quickly, and then I want to ask you about it.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, DemocraticPresidential Candidate: It is no secret that Secretary Clinton and I have strong disagreements on some very, very important issues.

It is also true that our views are quite close on others. I look forward in the coming weeks to continued discussion between the two campaigns to make certain that your voices are heard and that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history and that Democrats actually fight for that agenda.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do we make of this, David?


DAVID BROOKS: It’s marriage counseling.


DAVID BROOKS: The Sanders and Clinton people, they’re coming together. They will come together. It has to happen in stages, so healing can happen. But I would be shocked if the Democrats weren’t pretty united by the end of the summer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just by what he said?


MARK SHIELDS: It’s an acknowledgment, not a concession.

Bernie Sanders is indispensable to the Democrats and their well-being in taking back the Senate. He is the leader of a movement. They need him. He was a generational candidate more than an ideological candidate. And voters under the age of 45 are Bernie, and Hillary needs them. And he needs her. And it will be — will only be a shotgun marriage, but it might not be the — but it will be a marriage, believe me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we may be watching this at the convention.

MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, and you will both be there to talk about it all.

MARK SHIELDS: Look forward to it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Happy Father’s Day to both of you.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.