Brooks and Capehart on the anniversary of 9/11, the politics of vaccinations

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join John Yang to discuss the week in politics, including the anniversary of 9/11, the politics of vaccinations and California's recall election.

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  • John Yang:

    On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the deadliest terror attack in the country, we are in the midst of another calamity, COVID-19.

    Here to break down the political aspects of all this, the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    Gentlemen, we just heard Judy lead a discussion about the foreign policy aspects of all of this. And, certainly I can — looking back on 9/11, I remember how we felt changed from this. But, looking back, looking backward at it, how did we change? Are we changed as a people, as a nation, as a political system?

    David, what's your take?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, as a globe.

    I mean, it was the first act of the 21st century. And so I was a foreign correspondent in the 1990s. I covered nothing but good news. I covered the end of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mandela coming, an end of apartheid, the Oslo peace process.

    And the theme of the '90s was convergence. China was liberalizing. We were becoming more like each other and more communication with each other. We thought the Internet was a good thing back then.

  • David Brooks:

    And 9/11 happens, and a group of terrorists said, no, we don't want to be like you. We reject you.

    And so that was a shock. And then you have other shocks. The Chinese stops liberalizing. We don't want to be like you. Russia goes to Putin. We don't want to be like that.

    So the 21st century has been the re-erection of barriers. And 9/11 was a first shocking foretaste of a much tougher world.

  • John Yang:

    Jonathan, as I recall, you were in New York. You were working for Michael Bloomberg.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right. Right. I was working on his first of three mayoral campaigns in New York City, and it was primary day.

    And I remember waking up. I lived in a high-rise, so I had a perfect view of the city. It was a crystal-clear day. I remember walking to the voting place, looking up at the sky and thinking, this is a spectacular day. And still to this day, that is — I'd never seen a day like that in New York City.

    And all hell broke loose later, about 90 minutes later, later that morning. Lots of things changed that day. We were in the middle of a mayoral campaign. The campaign stopped.

    At one point while we're watching the coverage on television, someone just asks out loud, has anyone heard from the mayor, meaning Rudy Giuliani at the time, who, on primary day, everyone in New York was looking forward to turning the page from Rudy Giuliani's mayoralty.

    And the rest, we know, is history.

    I think that, in these 20 years, just to add on to what David was just talking about, we have seen a lot of what I think of as one step — one giant step forward, and then two giant steps back. One giant step forward was the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, first Black president.

    But a huge step back was the election of Donald Trump as president. Another huge, huge step forward, the election of Joe Biden as president of the United States. Another huge step forward, marriage equality. But another huge step back, to my mind, one was the fact that, even though Donald Trump lost the election, he got 15 — 12 million more votes than he did in 2016. So it just highlights the divisions within the country.

    And then the ultimate step back, January 6. My colleague Carlos Lozada said this morning on television that how ironic it is that, on September 11, there were reports that the plane that went down in Shanksville was headed to the Capitol, headed to crash into the Capitol. And yet, at almost 20 years later, the Capitol was ransacked by domestic terrorists who lay siege to the U.S. Capitol at a time when the members of — Congress was certifying the last election.

    That was, to my mind, the ultimate step back. And to your point about the world turning away from democracy, we have that issue here at home right now.

  • John Yang:

    So, Jonathan, you see it — what I hear you saying is that other forces have changed politics more since 9/11 than 9/11.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Oh, I think so.

    I think MAGA and the domestic terror threat is much more worrisome than any foreign threat we could face.

  • John Yang:


  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I would agree.

    I think we had — we thought we had some debates settled. And the settlement was liberal pluralism, democratic capitalism, and the world is sort of evolving away from some sort of primitivism. And then, suddenly, 9/11 happens, and Afghanistan and al-Qaida, and then ISIS.

    So, apparently, we're not evolving away from that. And then — and then capitalism, well, 2008, that sort of disillusions that. And then, oh, we're a more diverse nation, Barack Obama. 2016 disillusions that.

    COVID, we can't function as a people. We have lost faith in each other. And so it's been a sad epoch of disillusionment, not without good things, as Jonathan said, but the — just look at the dumb figure, do you trust your neighbors? Do you trust the people around you?

    Anyway generation ago, 50, 60 percent. Now it's 30 percent, 19 percent of millennials. And this is the world they have known. And their distrust is an earned distrust. And so this is the legacy of what we have faced in the past two decades.

  • John Yang:

    And we are in the midst of another calamity, the pandemic.

    And as we have been focusing on 9/11 this week, it struck me. Someone pointed out to me that, every two days this week, with COVID deaths, we have essentially had another 9/11 and also had another 20-year Afghan war in terms of the Americans who've died.

    This week — or, yesterday, the president tried, after resisting mandates, has ordered mandates.

    David, what do you make of that shift? And do you think this is going to work?

  • David Brooks:

    First, I'm reminded, in — September 22, 2001, George Bush had a 90 percent approval rating. We were a unified country.

    We're not that anymore. I — with the Biden mandates, I think the government has an absolute right to do this. Public health and the air we breathe is a common good. I nonetheless think it's a mistake.

    If you go around, as I did, and we all do as reporters, you go to a town, McCook, Nebraska, Wilkes, North Carolina, and Chicago, you say, who's trusted here, in every neighborhood, people will give you names. And they're always the same names. Everybody knows who the nodes of community is in their community.

    And I thought it was public health 101 that you go at the grassroots level to who's trusted in each neighborhood, and you try to get them to influence people to uptake vaccines and do anything else.

    Having a top-down, highly partisan process from the part of government that is disliked the most, the politics that is distrusted the most seems to be the wrong way to go. And it seems to me it's going to create a backlash, where a lot of people that don't like Joe Biden are going to say, hell no, I'm definitely not taking the vaccines now.

    And so I think it's — the way we have done it is counterproductive.

  • John Yang:


  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I just — I hear you, David, but I just don't think, in this day and age, the grassroots aren't working. From the bottom up, it's not working.

    The president has resisted doing what he did yesterday for the longest time, facing enormous criticism from lots of people, asking, why isn't Washington, why isn't the president doing something, exercising all the power that he has to do something, hoping that neighbors would trust neighbors, people would listen to health professionals?

    And it's not happening. And the anger in the country at the unvaccinated is palpable. I am one of those people. Howard Stern is out there cursing at people to get vaccinated because he — quote — "He wants his freedom back."

    Millions of Americans, a majority of Americans want their freedom back. And I think that the president was channeling that anger, and for — on behalf of the majority of the American people who just want their neighbors and friends and co-workers who are resisting getting the vaccine, or even putting on a mask, just do these two simple things, and we would be clear of this faster than then we could imagine.

    But folks aren't doing it. And so if they're not going to do it voluntarily, then the president decided, I'm going to click some levers to make it happen a little more quickly.

    I don't think it's going to backfire on him.

  • John Yang:

    But, as David pointed out, I mean, this is generating a huge amount of anger from people who don't like Joe Biden to begin with.

    And the Republican governors going to — say they're going to go to court about this. I mean, are — is this going to be — is it going to backfire?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    John, it was bound to happen.

    Republican governors were bound to be against anything that the president proposed. And, quite frankly, Republican governors, especially the governor of Texas, don't want to hear anything from him, given that Texas abortion law he signed — bill he signed into law.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I would say a government doesn't even know how to do grassroots. We don't have — in Washington, people think top down. They think, oh, let's get some celebrities. That will persuade them. It's just lame.

    But if you — if — in every church, if every pastor, or in softball leagues, if people, if neighbors got together among the avenues of trust that already exist, and say, sorry, you can't play in the softball league unless you get the shots, to me, that's neighbor talking to neighbor.

    It's less political. It's less partisan. And it doesn't happen on its own. You — I mean, we're in a sophisticated economy where people know how to create swarms of activity across networks. And yet government is incapable of thinking that way.

    And so we are where we are.

  • John Yang:

    But are the Republicans going to use this as a cudgel against the president, against the Democrats in the midterms and in '24?

  • David Brooks:

    Oh, absolutely.

    I mean, they had trouble trying to figure out how to attack Joe Biden. But now, as a friend of mine e-mailed me today, now they have their line, unconstitutional, incompetent, running your life. That's a Republican — that's a line Republicans know how to use.

    And so I think they will use that. And I don't want to associate myself with them. I think they're being crazy. But we should all be vaccinated. But that's a pretty politically effective line, I think.

  • John Yang:

    Well, there's another Democratic leader who got into trouble a little bit because of COVID and the reaction to his — what he was doing, Governor Gavin Newsom of California.

    There's a recall election coming up. There are 46 — count them — 46 candidates running to replace him if he is recalled.

    What are your thoughts on that, Jonathan?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    This is insane that the governor of California, who has a high approval rating — his approval rating is a high 50s, low 60s.

    And he is facing a recall simply because people don't want to wait until the next election to exact whatever revenge or to hold him accountable. And so they're going to attempt to get rid of a popular governor.

    And then, due to maybe apathy and low turnout, he could get recalled. And then, yes, there are 46 candidates, but the one leading person, Larry Elder, is somebody who is — I mean, he's from the Trump — the Trump school and Trump wing of the Republican Party.

    He is also African American. And I — I'm almost speechless, because I cannot believe California is in this mess. And yet, if Democrats don't come out and vote and don't return those ballots — I think the election is next week, if not next week, the week after — Governor Newsom could be history.

    But I don't think that's going to happen. But the fact that we're talking about this just demonstrates how crazy our politics are now.

  • John Yang:


  • David Brooks:

    The patterns is, in the referendum, the no's tend to rise at the end. So, if there's going to be momentum, it will probably be on the Newsom side.

    But I love democracy, but not direct democracy.


  • David Brooks:

    And California over does it with the referendum and they overdo it with this.

    We elect people for terms for a reason. And that reason is, sometimes, they have to do unpleasant things that are going to make them unpopular. And we — if you can be recalled at a moment's notice, it — then they're not going to do those things.

    It's not like the ratings on TV, where you cancel the show if it has a bad season. We have — we go through ups and downs with our politicians, and they should be unpopular.

  • John Yang:

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, thank you very much.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, John.

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