Brooks and Capehart on recent mass shootings and the lame-duck session of Congress

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart join William Brangham to discuss the week in politics, including recent mass shootings in America and what can be done during the lame-duck session of Congress.

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  • William Brangham:

    Next week, lawmakers come back to Washington, D.C., gearing up for a busy lame-duck session before Republicans take control of the House.

    For analysis of that and more, it is time for Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post.

    Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here. Nice to see you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    You too, William.

  • William Brangham:

    David, I want to start with you first.

    The tragedies we saw this week, two more mass shootings, others that we didn't even pay attention to in the press. There was one point where we had seven mass shootings in seven days this week.

    We have a cultural problem, it seems, in this country, where troubled young man feel the only way to exorcise whatever demons they have is to take a gun and go and hurt as many people as they can. Do you see that there is any way out of that?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, this is obviously a problem that is centuries in the making.

    In the first place, we are a gun culture. We have a lot of guns of this country, too many guns in this country, and too many unregulated guns in this country. So, I think that's the primary cause of why this happens in America more than other places.

    But it combines with another problem that's at least decades' long of a problem, which you could call extreme social isolation. Tons of studies have been done on the sort of men who do this sort of thing, and what you find is a culture of complete invisibility. They are unseen at school. They are on unseen around their neighborhoods. They are unseen.

    One researcher said. They are not loners. They are failed joiners. They want to have a social life, but, for one reason or another, they can't have it. And so they have to make a choice: Is the problem me or is the problem society?

    And the ones who kill decide the problem is society, and they're going to take it out on society, their invisibility.

    And so some of the researchers I have spoken to say, you should think about this as a murder-suicide, that they have decided to commit suicide, and they're going to do it in a way that's going to give them what they crave, which is recognition. And the gun itself, for somebody who feels impotent, is a siren song saying, you can be impotent, you can be powerful by killing.

    And so they go off. And it's the combination, that poisonous combination of a society that does not see a lot of the people within it with a lot of guns.

  • William Brangham:

    Jonathan, what David is talking about is a — again, a much harder nut to crack.

    We know President Biden has been saying that he wants to come back to Washington next week and, in this lame-duck session, try to get some federal legislation passed on gun control. Do you think that there's a chance that any of that's going to happen?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    No.

    I really wish I could say yes, that we could get an assault weapons ban, that we could even get a background checks law, something that would do something about the access to guns. To David's point about sort of this murder-suicide pack, you wouldn't have — you wouldn't have especially suicide if you — if these loner, these lone young men didn't have the ready access to guns that they have.

    And I keep going back to Newtown and the slaughter of those babies at Sandy Hook Elementary. If America and its leaders could not come together to do something to control guns, to do something about gun safety after the murder of those innocent children, then nothing will happen.

    And what the president and Congress was able to do last year is great. But, as we have seen with Uvalde, and Buffalo, and Colorado Springs, and Chesapeake, Virginia, that the problem is still there. We know what the answer is or what part of the answer is. We're not going to stop murder. We're not going to stop suicides. We're not going to stop mass shootings.

    But what we can do is lessen their frequency and lessen the ability of these people seeking recognition, lessen their ability to get their hands on guns.

  • William Brangham:

    David, do you share Jonathan's pessimism that any of that is going to get done in the lame-duck? And, if so, what else would you like to see the president and the Democrats try to get done?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, as Jonathan mentioned, we had some not insignificant gun legislation within the past couple of years. And so that was a pleasant surprise. It would take — President Biden spoke about red flagging, that you would find somebody you think is potentially dangerous, and we would be able to — authorities would be able to go in and take guns away.

    That would take a gigantic cultural shift in this country, a revamping of the way we think about privacy, a revamping of the way we think about the role government plays in protecting the common good. I think it'd be something I think would be good not only for — to head off shootings, but good to live in a society where we cared more intimately about each other.

    And I would be willing to give up certain privacies for that to happen. But, for many Americans, that would just be a massive cultural shift to regard community and regard our common good more frankly, in a European style. I think it would benefit our society in a whole range of areas, but it's hard to see that kind of culture change to a society that's been pretty individualistic for a long, long time.

  • William Brangham:

    So, Jonathan, what do you think?

    If your pessimism holds true, and this does not happen, what would you like to see the Democrats really focus on?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Oh, in terms of getting something done in the lame-duck?

  • William Brangham:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, without question, they have to do something about the debt ceiling. They have to do something about keeping the government open, because it runs out of money in the middle of December.

    And there's also the NDAA, the defense authorization bill. Those three things are probably going to get mushed together. But, without question, they have to do something about the debt ceiling, because if the global financial structure implodes because the United States, for the first time in its history, doesn't pay its bills on time, then all these other things don't matter. They will not matter.

    And there are a whole lot of other things. There's immigration and other things that are also — Senator Manchin's regulation bill that he wants to get voted on. Those are also things that are on their plates. But there's only so much time that they have.

    And let's not forget there's a Georgia run-off on December 6…

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    … which is eating into the business days that Congress has to get stuff done.

  • William Brangham:

    David, one of the things that the GOP leadership has said that it would consider when it takes control of the House is to restrict or cut off aid to Ukraine in its fight against the Russians.

    Do you think that that is a real threat? Would they actually do that? And, if so, what would that mean for Ukraine's ability to hold Russians off?

  • David Brooks:

    There is — there are some in the Republican Party who are entertaining that idea.

    I think there are more people in the Republican media industrial complex who are entertaining that idea. I think it's unlikely that the Republican Party would seek to cut off aid. I think most Republicans strongly support aid to Ukraine.

    But it is an argument for doing Ukraine aid in the midterm — in the lame-duck session, when there's clearly support. And so that would be number one on my list of what could happen over the next few months, to just pass some significant Ukrainian aid that would carry over into the next year.

    The other thing I'd add is the Electoral Count Act, the reform of that. And that could take away some of the loopholes that Trump and others tried to capitalize on, on January 6. And then, finally, the dreamers would be on my list.

    So, there — I'm not sure — Jonathan mentioned how little time there is, but there's so much to be done. I'd like to see them cram a little in there.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • William Brangham:

    Jonathan, one of the other issues for the Democrats, speaking of this crammed period of time, is the final January 6 report. And we know it's apparently going to the printers early as next week.

    Do you think, when that final report lands, however large a phone book thickness it is, that it will have some kind of weight to it that the hearings didn't? Will it will carry more impact?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I think it will.

    We have to look at that report as not sort of the final, this is it, this is the end, here's the report, and then we just move on, no one looks at it ever again. Those hearings were effective in weaving a narrative and showing the American people just how central Donald Trump was to an attempted coup against the government, against the United States government.

    What the report will show, I hope, is the other webs that lead out from Donald Trump. What about the money? What about the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers? What about all of these other people and entities that were involved in the states, that this wasn't, as we all thought, some ragtag group of people who decided to do this. This was orchestrated.

    And the key thing is, once that report hits, there's the — there's the text and the narrative, and then there are the footnotes. And it's for folks like us and David, it's the footnotes where the new news will come out, and we will — there will be much more reporting and much more context given to what happened on January 6, 2021.

  • William Brangham:

    David, what do you think? Do you think that this will have some weight?

    I mean, the Democrats like to argue that the midterms showed that people really did care about threats to democracy that Biden had argued about and was somewhat ridiculed for. They say, no, people really did care. That is the kernel of the January 6 report. Do you think it will land?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, first, I should say just, because I went to the University of Chicago doesn't mean I'm such a nerd about footnotes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I really do think — I had been an early skeptic of the committee. But I think, when you look at the election results, it's clear that, even if people said they didn't vote on January 6, they did vote on democracy. And I think the committee let — kept that issue alive.

    There has been some criticism the committee has been overly Trump-focused. So, as Jonathan mentioned, if the report lands and we see the tentacles, how the whole movement was organized, I think that would be minorly new.

    I'm also interested, if the Republicans decide to relitigate the January 6 Committee. They — the Republicans, when they take the majority, will have a choice. Are they going to investigate things the Republican Party wants them to investigate, like things on the border or fentanyl, how we might better address that issue, or are there going to investigate the things Donald Trump wants them to investigate?

    And that would be relitigating January 6 and all sorts of other Hunter Biden stuff. And so I'm curious to see what investigatory strategy they take.

  • William Brangham:

    David, lastly, quickly, before we let you go, what were you thankful for on Thanksgiving?

  • David Brooks:

    I think we're in a better place democratically than we were a year ago. And I thank the voters for that.

    And then, finally, on a personal note, we all have rough years. I had a rough year with some — three significant deaths, including Mark Shields and Michael Gerson. So I'm just thankful for life and the people we get to enjoy as we get to enjoy them.

  • William Brangham:

    Beautiful.

    Jonathan?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    The two that I would add, I'm thankful for LOL funny writing like this.

    "Shakira tells us that her hips don't lie. My hips are mute."

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    And also: "Then there are the times that are just awkward, like the time at a Nas concert when a 7-foot-tall woman in black bodice came up to me and asked: 'What on earth are you doing here?'"

    Those are the words of David Brooks in his column that's in the paper today. And it's that kind of — that kind of — that funny writing that has a deeper meaning and understanding — understanding is what I'm thankful for as a reader, but also as an American, and also as a colleague of David's.

  • William Brangham:

    Beautiful.

    Jonathan and David, so nice to see you. Thanks for being here.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, William.

  • David Brooks:

    See you at a Nas concert, Jonathan.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Good luck.

    (LAUGHTER)

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