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Shields and Brooks on a ‘political earthquake’ and how America can move forward

November 11, 2016 at 8:50 PM EST
In their first post-election Friday analysis, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the factors that may have contributed to Donald Trump's dramatic upset, including an American desperation for change. Also, how should we consider the subsequent protests that have erupted, and can we expect Trump's policy positions to evolve?
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we come back to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

And let me just kick this off by saying there’s nobody I would rather spend more than nine hours with on Election Night than the two of you.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you so much, Judy.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, having said that, political earthquake. The earth moved under our feet, David.

How big an earthquake was it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s certainly the political shock of our lives, at least my lifetime.

It feels like almost the ’60s, sort of like political revolution, cultural revolution, aesthetic revolution, the things that now you can say and get elected president. And so it was all those things.

I’m sort of finding myself in a strange emotional territory, if I could lie on the couch here. On the one hand, Trump appalls me. I won’t be shy about that.

But having — with the elective democratic process having taken its turn, I sort of feel we have to owe some respect to the process and owe some respect to the electorate and the people who voted him, on the assumption that they have something to teach us.

And so all these people are marching in the street. There is all this hostility. I find myself — and I think this was the president’s attitude and frankly Hillary Clinton’s attitude — of respectful pause. Maybe I will be as upset at Trump as I was in another week, but what do they try to teach us? Just try to understand what the situation we’re in is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Respectful pause, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

I, Judy, believe devoutly that the national election is the closest thing we have to a civic sacrament of democracy. And I really do think that heed must be paid, and when people make a decision, those who are on the other side, including me, accept it, for that reason.

I think that probably the best analysis, of the millions of words that were written, other than David’s — David’s were really perceptive and wise.

But there’s a woman named — I don’t know her name — Salena Zito at “Atlantic.” And she said something. She said, to understand this election, critics of Donald Trump take him literally, but not seriously. His supporters take him seriously, but not literally.

In other words, so while his critics were very upset with what he said, the — his supporters really were the mood and the positions he took, rather than precise phrases or words.

I say that because now, as of Tuesday, everyone has to take him seriously, and I think that’s what we’re seeing. I think the anxiety in schools that we hear, in minority communities, those with the archbishop of Los Angeles at Our Lady of the Saints Cathedral yesterday at an interfaith service with Jewish and Muslim, and was very open and said, our children are fearful that their parents — the government is going to come and take their parents away.

And I think that’s a consequence of the election. I mean, in addition, the fact that he won, but his positions appear to prevail, and I think there have left fear in a lot of places.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, David, I was going to ask the two of you what you think, with reflection, the voters were saying. But I also — I was struck by what we just heard a few minutes ago by voters in Manassas, Virginia.

One young woman said, I guess — she said, I guess hate is now state-sponsored.

And we heard a man say — another woman say, I’m for immigrants, just the right immigrants.

What were voters saying, do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they certainly want change. We know that. They’re fed up with a lot of talk and no change.

On the issues, they preferred her. She got better marks on the economy and foreign policy. But they just didn’t get the sense she was a reformer. So they want some unnamed change.

I think they also wanted some sense of dignity, some sense of being heard. I mean, in some sense, there is something noble, in that people that was people who felt marginalized, working-class voters, A, taking over their party from basically what had been a corporate party, and then asserting their will on the country, against groups of people who were more privileged than they are, both on the left and the right.

And so there is something nice about that. I think Trump is the wrong vehicle for that. But, you know, you’re living in a town, there are no jobs in the town, you know your friends are dying of O.D.-ing on opiates or something, you’re having trouble paying your bills, you’re playing by the rules, and other people are getting benefits without playing by the rules.

Maybe you’re willing to tolerate a lot of bigotry from Donald Trump if you say, just change things, just change things.

And so I don’t — I think the voters who voted for him certainly are willing to tolerate a lot of ugliness, but maybe, if you’re in desperate circumstances, or you think the country is deeply in trouble, you’re willing to tolerate that without necessarily liking it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you hear? What do you think the voters were saying?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the first thing that bothers me are my liberal friends, or too many of them, I think who immediately run to the race card.

The fact is that it’s the most dangerous place to be on the political scale is to brand those on the other side as racist. That’s the atomic bomb. That’s the nuclear weapon of an American. Once I accuse you of racist, I have demonized you, and it means any future collaboration, cooperation between us is a sign of my moral deficiency, if I would deal with someone like that. It’s just — it’s a terrible thing to do.

I say that for a factual reason. Barack Obama carried Iowa, carried Wisconsin, carried Michigan. He not only carried Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan twice. He carried the white — a majority of the white vote in those states.

And so Hillary Clinton lost them, Donald Trump won them, and it’s a little, I think, transparent, false to say that the people are racist. These are the same voters who would vote for an African-American man and didn’t vote for the white woman Democrat. So, I think that’s dangerous.

I think, Judy, it was a revolt of working-class Americans. I think it was a revolt against us in the press. I think it was a revolt against the ruling class who were indifferent to their plight, to the fact that, for a generation, their standard of living has declined or that their children’s futures are blighted.

I thought Peter Hart and Dan McGinn, when they wrote that the people who led this revolution are foreign to Washington and New York, they don’t go to Starbucks and they don’t take their children on tours, they care about high school sports more than about pro sports, they go to Walmart, McDonald’s, and they have declining incomes, and they think their grandparents and parents built this country. They scream that they want their country back.

And I think that — I think they saw indifference from the ruling elites, both public and private, particularly private.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You said it wasn’t race.

And, yet, David, people — many people of color are saying they feel the message is directed at them.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. So, there is a racial element here. There is clearly a racial element.

And so I think that I don’t have a machine to peer into the souls of the voters. So I don’t know how much of the racial element was dominant, how much was there, something they tolerated, something they endorsed.

Clearly, for some people, it was a large element. I do not believe, having spent these last many months interviewing Trump voters, that it’s a dominant element in at least a lot of the people I spoke to. They had good reason, as Mark just elucidated, for why they were really upset with the course of the country.

Their culture, their life economically, socially, families breaking apart, drug use, it’s going downhill. And I think the two things — one, we don’t want to turn this into a children of light, children of darkness, where us college-enlightened people, educated, enlightened people are looking down at those primitive hordes. We do not want that.

That’s what — that condescension is what fueled this thing in the first place. And so I don’t think we want that.

Second, through American history, we have had populist movements that often, often, often have this ugly racial element. But, often, there are warning signs of some deeper social and economic problem. And we have rapidly increasing technology, which is making life very good for people who are good at using words, and not so good for people who are not good at using words.

And so the ugliness can sometimes be super ugly, but also a warning sign of something down below.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I agree with what David said.

I would just add, Judy, that the problem is that what Donald Trump said, if you take it literally now, is cause for anxiety and nervousness.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean during the campaign.

MARK SHIELDS: What he said during the campaign, I mean, is — it’s legitimate, the anxiety and the nervousness that you feel and that children feel right now, because — if you do take him literally.

He has to do something to reassure, and beyond tweeting that he either likes or doesn’t like protests. I just — the protests, the breaking of windows at this point, I mean, I just want anybody in the protest to have an “I voted” sticker on their jacket lapel before they get out there.

And I understand the concern, but please accept this democracy. And he is the president. He’s going to be the president in 75 days, or whatever. And, you know, he now has a responsibility, I think, to calm those waters and to reassure people that there isn’t going to be — there aren’t going to be Storm Troopers coming down to take their grandparents in a patrol wagon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, in the last couple of minutes, David, we are seeing some signals from Donald Trump or the people he has put on his transition committee, putting in the vice president-elect, instead of Chris Christie. He’s putting his children, his son-in-law on that committee.

He said today that he’s — in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he’s thinking about keeping part of the health care reform law after talking to President Obama about it.

So, what are we to think? Maybe this is not going to be all the big moves that were hinted at during the campaign?

DAVID BROOKS: I’m obviously outraged Tiffany didn’t get a job. Maybe she will get Fed chairman or something.

I think when — the nomination of Mike Pence is more of a sign that he’s going for conventional Republicans. Until last summer, Pence was a very conventional. He was in the House, well connected with the conventional movement Republicans.

And I assume he will tap, he may be more conventional. I think Donald Trump is going to find it very hard to do the kind of massive change he wants. Obamacare is woven into the fabric of health care. It’s very hard to just rip it out, as he sort of acknowledged with The Wall Street Journal.

The Iran deal, maybe we can withdraw from the deal, but our other partners are not going to withdraw from the deal. When you get down to each of these individual things, deporting people, when you get down to each of the individual things, the barriers to change are massive.

And the simple promises he makes just don’t apply to reality. So he’s got to do some big changes, because what he was voted on. But when you think about how to do it, it would take massive expertise, which his people, believe me, do not have.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just 20 seconds, Mark. What do you think he…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, 213 times to vote to repeal Obamacare, it’s a very easy, grandstand act.

Doing it and taking 20 million people and taking them off insurance, those with preexisting conditions, those who don’t have any other coverage, you know, that’s a reality. And it is going to be difficult, make no mistake about it. And this is where you confront reality from the rhetoric of the campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The transition begins.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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