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Shields and Brooks on voter disenchantment across the globe

June 24, 2016 at 7:45 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including what Brexit might suggest about the upcoming presidential election, how frustrations with low-paying jobs and expensive education are influencing voters this year, President Obama’s “depleted” legacy and the prospects for new gun legislation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The presidential nominees also weighed in on the Brexit result today.

During a press conference at his Scottish resort and golf course this morning, Donald Trump praised Britain’s decision to leave the E.U.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presumptive Presidential Nominee: I really do see a parallel between what’s happening in the United States and what’s happening here. People want to see borders. They don’t necessarily want people pouring into their country, that they don’t know who they are and where they come from. They have no idea.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hillary Clinton also responded to Britain’s vote to leave. In a statement today, the former secretary of state said — quote — “We respect the choice the people of the United Kingdom have made.”

And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome to you both.

This whole program up until now practically has been about the vote in the U.K., David, to leave the European Union. What do you make of this?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Well, in country after country, we’re seeing a conflict between what you might call urban cosmopolitans and less well-educated ethnic nationalism, and ethnic nationalism is on the rise.

And I agree with everything that Ivo, Richard and Margaret were saying, but it should be said — and I covered — I lived in Brussels for five years at the Maastricht Treaty, when all this was coming together — and the elites, as much as I hate the leave — the fact that the U.K. is going to leave the E.U., the elites in some large degree brought this on themselves.

There was built into the European unification project an anti-democratic, a condescending, and a snobbish attitude about popular democracy. And, secondly — and this is also true here — and I’m as pro-immigration as the day is long, but we have asked a lot of people who are suffering in this company to accept extremely, radically high immigration levels.

And we have probably overflooded the system. And so while it’s easy — and I do condemn the vote to leave, get out — a little humility is in order on the part of the establishment, frankly, that we have flooded the system with more than it can handle. And, secondly, we have not provided a good nationalism, a good patriotism that is cosmopolitan, that is outward-spanning, and that is confident. And, therefore, a bad form of parochial, inward-looking Trumpian nationalism has had free rein.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, the elites brought it on themselves?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the forces and the advocates of globalization have been primarily obsessed with the well-being of the investor class and the stockholders and the shareholders, and been indifferent, oftentimes callous, to the dislocation and the suffering that people in countries affected by this trade, the expanded trade, the larger economy, who have been victimized by it.

And it has been a accompanied, I think, by an elitist condescension, in many cases, and it’s been taken advantage of. I mean, the shorthand today is that we saw the words of the Republican nominee in waiting, who is a part-time presidential candidate and a full-time real estate developer, you know, he won, and Barack Obama lost, I mean, by any scorecard.

There is no spin you can put on this that in any way comforts Democrats today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If this is the case, then, David, what should we expect? Does this mean that the U.S. is going to do something similar in the election in November?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don’t know, of course.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, not that we have to vote to leave the E.U., but…

DAVID BROOKS: Let’s consider this one of a link in a long chain of the rise of ethnic nationalism.

As I mentioned, I was in Europe in the early ’90s. And from ’45 through really ’94, we had this just big process of integration, with the international institutions. We had trade agreements. We had the European project, the fall of the Berlin Wall.

And then I remember, at the end of my stay there, Yugoslavia pulled apart. And then you had the Serbs and the Bosnians and a horrific war. And, suddenly, you began to see the nationalism rising up in a way we have seen sort of ethnic nationalism rising up in the Middle East. We have seen polarization in this country. We have seen economic segmentation.

So, we’re — if we came together for 40 years, we have been segmenting and splitting apart for all this time. And we should expect a lot more of this sort of behavior, unless we have some sort of radical change in our politics.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see something like this happening in this country?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there is no question part of Donald Trump’s appeal is to people who have been dislocated.

This week, Peter Hart for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a focus group of really struggling middle-class workers, blue-collar, and service industry workers, most of whom were sympathetic.

There were some Clinton supporters, but who were understanding. They felt that Trump at least was acknowledging them, that the two parties had been indifferent to their plight.

It is no accident, Judy, that the median household income in the United States is lower today than it was 20 years ago. And that has a political cost to it. And as the top 1 percent and the top two-tenths of 1 percent have flourished and prevailed, the rising tide has lifted all yachts, but an awful a lot of boats have been washed up on the shore.

DAVID BROOKS: I would just like to marry something Mark is talking and something I’m talking about, which are related, the economic stagnation.


DAVID BROOKS: But it’s also feeding into and sort of intertwining with a cultural sense of loss.

And if you look at Trump voters, for example, and certainly probably true of Brexit voters, they think immigration is a force for harm, not good. They think people like themselves, basically white people, are discriminated against as much as anybody else. They think the country has because too multicultural.

And so these two forces, a sense of ethnic loss and economic loss, are coming together. And that’s certainly a dangerous formula.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, where does that leave — go ahead, yes.


And I don’t argue with David’s numbers. But these are not knuckle-dragging people who are, you know, out of the cast of “Deliverance.” These are people who are really…


JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the people who voted?

MARK SHIELDS: The people who are supporting Donald Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Donald Trump.

MARK SHIELDS: They’re struggling to make it against enormous costs.

It’s no accident that the highest debt load of any generation in history are those graduating from college this year. The only one who were high were the ones who graduated last year. And the only ones that will be higher than that will be the ones graduating next year.

So there is. And you can look at the job picture, and it is hardly encouraging. So, when you growing at eight-tenths of 1 percent, you know, it’s one thing to be accepting of change when that change is working for everyone. And that certainly was the case in the United States for the half-century that David described from ’45 to ’95.

It was a remarkable epic and era in world history.

DAVID BROOKS: And it should be said that fear of cultural — loss of cultural cohesion is not silly either.

England is a certain thing. And America is a certain thing. And to lose that thing, because we have radically encouraged immigration, I think the dynamism is worth it, but it’s completely reasonable to think, I’m losing the country we have had for centuries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you talked a minute ago, David, about immigration.

It sounds as if you’re saying that Donald Trump is the only one out there speaking, Bernie Sanders to some extent, certainly during the primaries. Is Donald Trump the only one of the two presidential candidates speaking to these people?

DAVID BROOKS: I just saw a poll today. If you ask Donald Trump supporters do they think immigration is good or bad for the country, 80 percent say it’s bad.

If you ask, is the country — do they mind that they’re around people who don’t speak English well, three-quarters mind. And so there is just an — not an intolerance, but a sense that the country is getting too diverse, and that somehow they’re the losers in this process, or the country as a whole is a loser in the process, it’s a sinking ship.

And so that is, I think, at the central core of what Trump is tapping into.

MARK SHIELDS: When you’re talking about people who are struggling to get by economically, these are the ones who are competing with people who come to this country who are themselves trying to aspire to a better life.

And so they are competing, really, for the same economic positions, whether it’s a driver or whether it’s in the service industry. And so, understandably, they see them as a threat economically and culturally, as David described.

But, at the same time, we stand alone as a country of assimilation, a country of immigrants. I mean, we are not the United Kingdom. I mean, if this — if Brexit or the equivalent thereof were put to the United States, we’re talking about a third of the electorate who are nonwhite.

DAVID BROOKS: The irony, though, is that the U.K. and U.S. are probably the two best — two of the best countries in the world…



DAVID BROOKS: … pretty cosmopolitan ways.

And the one amendment I would make is, Trump voters in the primaries, the average income was $74,000, which is well above the median in this country. So, they tend to be affluent people from poor places. And so it’s a sense of collective loss, as much as personal loss, that is driving a lot of those voters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to — while we’re touching on immigration, two other things I want to ask you about, Mark.

Mark, one is the Supreme Court decision this week effectively to — what means the president’s effort to at least provide some protection for those undocumented immigrants who are in this country, maybe the parents or the children of others who are here legally, the court said that is going to go back to a lower court. We will see what happens.

But it’s a big setback for the president. What does it say going forward?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s a setback to his legacy.

It says that, 2013, 68 United States senators supported — voted for a solution to this problem, to let people come out of the shadows, the parents, the relatives of children who were American citizens, that they wouldn’t be worried about immigration authorities showing up and knocking on their door. And it means that his legacy is depleted, that you can only do so much by executive order, that we never got a vote in the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives never voted on the immigration act in 2013.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, substantively, I think it’s a setback, because so many people’s lives are now made more precarious.

As a matter of process — and process matters when we think about the Constitution — I’m glad the court did what it did. You can’t — when you change the status of five million people, say, that’s a big thing. And that, to me, is something that should be done by law, through Congress, through the executive action, through — I mean, through executive signing the bill.

It should be done in the normal constitutional process. For one man, one president to make a change in American life that big through executive action seems to be overreaching the powers of the presidency.

JUDY WOODRUFF: OK, and the a little over a minute left.

I want to ask you both about this pretty unprecedented move, Mark, in the House of Representatives, Democrats sitting on the floor for hours and hours to make a statement about gun control, that they wanted legislation called up for a vote.

In the end, they have — the House is now in recess. What did the Democrats accomplish? Was this an effective move on their part?

MARK SHIELDS: What they did, Judy, was they got incredible attention to it.

I mean, having John Lewis, a civil rights icon who had led sit-ins in civil rights, lead this brought the attention. I don’t think there is any question that there is a profound change in public attitudes in support of background checks. And I think Hillary Clinton, as the Democratic nominee, support for the abolition of assault weapons will be a political advantage in 2016.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Twenty seconds.

DAVID BROOKS: I have do have questions about that.

The people who — there may be a shift on guns, but the people who vote on the gun issue have tended to be on the NRA side. It seems to me it’s a very open question whether that’s changed at all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, a big week of news. Thank you both.