Shields and Brooks on Las Vegas tragedy, Trump-Tillerson tensions


JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.

I was going to go straight to Las Vegas, but, Mark, I am again struck by these moving stories, this last one by William, about people struggling with addiction.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: No, every one of them, Judy, William tonight, Paul Solman last night, it just — putting a human face on it, not simply the affliction and the problem, but — and the recovery.

The gravity of the problem is driven home to you, but the hope for recovery is presented.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have a lot of emergencies, I guess, David, to deal with, but this is clearly one.

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times: Yes.

Well, the scene of Roxanne Newman with her date, on the first date, A, the spirit with which she told that story, and then her husband's grace, her now husband's grace, it's remarkable.


DAVID BROOKS: And she — her point, which is the one you hear over and over again, is, it's just a slow-motion form of suicide.

And you have got to see it, first, the heroism of the people who are trying to deal with the recovery, but the social chasm that causes it. Suicide is just a symptom of isolation. And the tearing of the social fabric has created so many problems for society, but this is the one that is the most lethal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of lethal and social fabric, Mark, Las Vegas has been on all of our minds this week, the worst mass shooting in American history.

What does it say about our country, about the American people?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it says, again, that we have a problem that the rest off the world doesn't face, has dealt with in a different way.

And it, quite frankly, Judy, is beyond my comprehension at this point. I mean, we, as a people, if you think about it, over the last generation have made such enormous strides in the changes we have made. For example, alcohol-related driving deaths are down by 85 percent. A generation ago, people took for granted smoking in hospitals, in schools, in offices, in stores.

And we have done — and put seat belts on children; 90 percent of Americans drive with seat belts. And half of those who die are of the 10 percent who don't wear seat belts.

And we have done it. We have made these changes. We have taken on major economic interests. And this is the one that's stumped us. And to organize social action and social movement around it, because there are majorities, not intense majorities, but majorities of people who favor measures that have broad backing on registration, on background check.

We do it with automobiles. We do it with every other kind of device. But, somehow, again, we have been stumped. And David has a theory on it, which he wrote about today quite persuasively, which, you know, may very well explain it.

DAVID BROOKS: I always have a theory.

You know, one of the things that struck me about the polling on people's gun rights or gun control, is that, in 2000, not that long ago, two-thirds of Americans supported gun control, and only 29 percent supported gun rights. Now it's about 50/50.

And so the gun rights people have just had a massive shift in their direction. And that's because the issue has now — perfectly mirrors the political divide in this country and the cultural divide between coastal and rural, between more — higher education and lower education, the divide we see on issue after issue.

And it's become sort of a proxy for the big cultural dispute. And a lot of the people who are trying to resist the post-industrial takeover of the country have seized on guns and immigration and the flag and a few other issues as the issues on which they are going to rally their people.

And there are a lot of those people. One in four households has a gun in this country. And so it's become a symptom of a larger culture war between some people who thinks it's horrific, guns, and some people who think it's a symbol of families being responsible and taking care of themselves, of freedom, and of Americans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's a reminder of something Barack Obama said.


DAVID BROOKS: I wouldn't say cling bitterly, though. No, I think I disagree with that.

They see it as a way that America should be what it should be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, the debate or the discussion this week, so much of it has turned to guns. Is that the conversation we should be having right now?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it's a conversation we have to have, because this man was a one-man artillery.

I mean, he had 12 rifles in his possession in the hotel, in the suite that was comped to him, let it be noted, because he was a major gambler. And that's what Las Vegas does. If you are going to bet enough at the tables, at video poker, you are going to get a free suite, and then nobody is going to ask questions about you.

But they were fitted out with bump stocks, Judy, which are a little device that turns it essentially into a lethal killing weapon. And that's all it is, to kill human beings. It's not for hunting. It's not for sportsmanship or anything else.

There seems to be an emerging consensus on that that we have to limit those, that they can limit sales. Even the NRA and Republicans have done it.

I hate to sound like a cynic, but these are made in Moran, Texas, by a man who started the company six years ago. They don't have a political action committee. They don't have millions of dollars in contributions. And I think it's a good idea, a positive public policy that they are limited, but he's not a — you're not dealing with a political powerhouse when you outlaw his product.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But does it look like — you wrote today, David, the prospects are dim for figuring this gun issue out. But is there any hope?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think they are dim.

We're in the middle of a renaissance of gun laws in this country — 24 — more than 24 states have passed it, and almost all of them have loosened gun restrictions, not tightened gun restrictions. They have conceal carry and all those kinds of laws.

My own view on the issue is that we should probably pass all the gun control measures that are talked about, whether it's the gun shows, whether it's limiting the number you can buy. And, I mean, there's a list of about 15 programs, smart guns and all that, and most of them would be good.

And I think they would be good because I think they would reduce suicides, which is the really main form of gun death.

Whether they'd prevent these kinds of killings, I guess I'm dubious. Marco Rubio made a statement in the presidential campaign that none of the proposed laws would have prevented any of the recent mass killings. The Washington Post did a big fact-check on that claim, and they said what he said was accurate.

And so I'm for supporting these things. I'm not sure we should get our hopes up they will prevent things. One of the things I have been thinking about if we in the media just stopped talking about these people — this guy seemed to be a — we don't know what he is.

But a lot of the people who do this, they just want to become famous. They want to prove to the world they exist. And if we anonymize them — and it's hard to do, because you're always curious about the people.


DAVID BROOKS: But if we anonymize them, I think that would — I'm not saying this is a replacement of gun rules, but I'm saying this, to me, is a thing that we can do.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, two-thirds of all the veterans who commit suicide do so by firearms.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Military veterans.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, military veterans.

And I just think one of the things we have to face is that this is going to require a social movement, just as tobacco did, just as drunk driving has. I mean, it's going to require a social movement. And it's going to require the face of people like David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, former generals, who have come out for limiting these weapons.

It's going to require that sort of — that it is a patriotic, that it is a fully red-blooded thing to limit and control.

DAVID BROOKS: I think that's a crucial point.

Too often, the people who have been the spokesperson for gun control have been Michael Bloomberg and, frankly, Jimmy Kimmel. And I like Michael Bloomberg. I like Jimmy Kimmel's show. But they shouldn't be the face, because everybody's cultural awarenesses get up when it's a New York mayor or a Hollywood star.

And it has to come from people who own guns in this country.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you are starting to see some conservatives, some Republicans saying, we need to at least look at this bump fire stocks.

The president, Mark, was out, went to Las Vegas, but also went to Puerto Rico, where we continue to watch very slow progress. Only, what is it, one out of every 10 households has power.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Only half the island has water.

He got into another verbal back-and-forth with the mayor of San Juan.

Separately, we know he's now very unhappy with his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. There is conflict here and conflict there. What do we make of all this at this point?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Puerto Rico was a disaster. I mean, what you're looking for at a time like this is a consoler in chief, a comforter in chief, someone who provides encouragement and hope to people, who rises above, who delivers empathy.

Donald Trump is just not naturally an empathetic person. He just isn't. He cannot abide criticism. He went after personally the mayor of San Juan, who was sleeping in a cot, while he was sleeping in a country club, and enduring all of the hardship.

And he treated Puerto Ricans, Judy — and I just point out, who are Americans, nine of whom have won the Congressional Medal of Honor in service, 223,000 of whom have served in American wars as American citizens — and he treated them as sort of a foreign soil, that they were not deserving.

And I thought that.

The Tillerson thing is — I don't think there is any question. I mean, he scolded publicly the chief diplomat of the United States, the secretary of state, for practicing diplomacy, for dealing and trying to defuse a potential nuclear conflagration in Asia and said that you're wasting your time by doing it.

I don't know that — this marriage cannot be saved.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the third — that's my question, David. This is a third, I guess, member of his Cabinet he's been unhappy with. He went ahead and — Tom Price left Health and Human Services.

But we know…

DAVID BROOKS: Friday afternoon…


DAVID BROOKS: … time for these guys.


DAVID BROOKS: We're doing OK so far.

You know, this is totally serious to me. What Donald Trump said today about the calm before the storm, not saying what it's about, but one has to think North Korea, that's a chilling statement to make.

And so you're really looking who — as Bob Corker the senator from Tennessee said this week, who can prevent chaos? And Mattis and Tillerson are the two big ones right now, and John Kelly.

And Tillerson has gotten, to put it kindly, mixed reviews as secretary of state, even if you take Donald Trump away, but he seems to be someone who at least can keep us out of nuclear war.

And so, to me, him resigning, if they could get a John Kelly in there, that might be — that would be good, another protector against chaos. But if Trump picks someone who is an inciter of chaos, of his worst instincts, then it will be worse.

And so, to me, this is sort of a life-or-death issue for — of whether we can surround Trump with enough people who can resist his — whatever is going through his brain on this subject.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And then questions about whoever would replace him if he were to leave. All of this is in the realm of speculation, though, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: No, it is.

But I don't think there is any question, Judy, that his time is limited. I mean, certainly his effectiveness…


MARK SHIELDS: Tillerson's.

Sadly, he gets very bad reviews inside the building. I mean, the morale at the State Department…

JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot of jobs not filled.

MARK SHIELDS: Not filled, and just people feeling that he has not stood up for the department and its mission, in addition.

But there is no question, he and General Mattis, the secretary of defense, have a very close — and General Kelly — have a very close working relationship. And I would hate to see General Kelly leave as White House chief of staff.


JUDY WOODRUFF: We are — no shortage of things to look at this week. We are looking for something uplifting.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both. Thank you.

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