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Brooks and Marcus on the Charlottesville rally anniversary, EPA and climate change

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus join William Brangham to discuss the week’s news, including the anniversary of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the politics of racially charged rhetoric, the implications of Tuesday’s close elections, the EPA moving away from global climate change efforts and more.

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  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Now we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away.

    Welcome to you both.

    So, we — as we were just hearing, this weekend is the one-year anniversary of the spasm of racism that we saw in Charlottesville.

    David, I’m curious. The president, we saw what his reaction was a year ago. And since then, he’s continued a steady stream of racially charged rhetoric, criticizing immigrants, linking them with crime and MS-13, criticizing NFL players.

    In this past year, is it your sense that anything has changed in that regard?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    No, not with Donald Trump.

    White identity politics has been his calling card for a long, long time, maybe stretching back generations of the Trump family.

    The Institute for Family Studies did this study asking how many people, how many Americans actually sympathize with what the alt-right stood for, what the people in Charlottesville stood for. And they identified three core beliefs.

    The first was, do you have a strong sense of white identity, do you have a belief in the importance of white solidarity, that all white people should stick together, and you have a sense of white victimization, that whites are often the victim of discrimination?

    And 6 percent of Americans share those three beliefs. And so that’s pretty much a core set of people who have high — one would say, a high degree of white identity, verging into racism.

    And so that’s a group of people who can be whipped up. And then there’s a large group that share one of those things.

    But, to me, Donald Trump’s main failure is constantly whipping up that sense of white identity. Not many even Republicans 20 years ago thought that being white was a strong part of their identity. But now it’s like 55 percent. And so he has stirred that up.

    And then the second problem is, you just can’t have a party that’s basically all white, because when you overlay our racial problems with our political problems, you get instant poison.

    And so the failure to do anything about that is by itself a gigantic problem.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Ruth, do you see any good news in that, in that just 6 percent — I know it is — does seem like an enormous number of people identifying with white supremacy — but maybe there’s a silver lining there?

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Well, I do see some good news in the response of the American people in the last year.

    The first good news was the response to Charlottesville and to the president’s response to Charlottesville, where almost — most people, in fact, many people in his administration, some publicly, recoiled at the president’s assertion that there were fine people on both sides.

    I think we have seen in recent months a kind of slow-motion version of Charlottesville, as people have recoiled from the family separation policy and its racial overtones.

    We are better as a people, even despite that 6 percent, than our president. The bad news is that, as David said, the president has not been chastened — and, as you mentioned — the president has not been chastened in the last year. He has just continued to do what he has done all along.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    You mean he hasn’t suffered political repercussions?

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    He hasn’t suffered political repercussions. And he has gone on his merry, very ugly way.

    And it’s not the 6 percent that I worry about. It’s the people who do not think of themselves as racists, people who think of themselves as decent people, wouldn’t subscribe to those extreme views. But there’s a way in which the president’s rhetoric about S-hole countries, about animals, and his actions, like family separation, just legitimize and kind of encourage a belief in some people as lesser than others, and allowing comments like Laura Ingraham’s comments just the other day about immigrants to be viewed as somehow more acceptable than they were before Donald Trump.

    And one last thing. The numbers bear it out. There was a recent poll; 57 percent of people thought race relations have got — think race relations have gotten worse under Donald Trump.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Gotten worse.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Fifty-seven percent.

    Need to point out, 37 percent thought they got worse under Barack Obama as well, but…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right. Right.

    Yes. Well, I certainly think they have gotten worse. Even measuring by segregation levels in the schools, we’re much more segregated at schools, residentially, and then the political thing that’s tearing — on the Laura Ingraham comment…

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    This was Laura, the FOX News host who basically went on a diatribe the other day, saying that it is undeniable that America is changing, and it’s largely due to demographics, and that these open borders, and the Democrats seem to celebrate it, and it’s a catastrophe for the country.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    And nobody asked us. And she said it’s legal immigration and illegal immigration.

    So it was a pure play of, we used to be white, and now we’re less so. That — basically, that…

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    It’s not too subtle.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

    And so I suppose I’m perfectly willing to have a debate about immigration, but when it’s constantly accompanied by racial superiority and race — and us/them thinking, and racial cries, you can’t even have that debate.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    And that is why Trump is so poisonous, because he really prevents us from actually having a debate on immigration, because if you’re not — you’re basically being asked to side with racist tendencies. Right.

    Let’s talk a little bit about the primaries that happened this week. Lots of little primaries. This is our last big look at the electorate’s interests until the midterms.

    Some of those races are still undecided, the Ohio 12 everyone’s been paying attention to.

    Ruth, did you — what did you glean out of — out of this week?

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Well, the president says he’s just rolled up the victories and a red wave is coming. So I just think Democrats can fold up their tents and go home.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    I sense some dubiousness in your voice.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Slightly dubious.

    Look, as in horseshoes, almost doesn’t count in winning elections. And so assume that — for the moment that the Republican will win in Ohio 12. The problem with a Republican almost losing there, if he does, is that is a very, very dangerous sign in that seat, a seat that has been Republican for the last 36 years, that is more Republican than — than many other seats, about 60-something seats that are in play in November.

    That is a very scary sign. And you have to be Donald Trump and only see your own victories to be ignoring it.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    You think the GOP is in trouble?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes, that — for the same reasons.

    Last time this seat was open, the Republicans won by 10 points. And they redistricted to make it more Republican. And, as Ruth said, when you have got 59 more vulnerable seats than this one, you’re in trouble.

    And more important was the way this one became close. Republicans are doing pretty well in rural areas. They are still doing that. And the Trump base is pretty solid. They’re always doing poorly in the cities. But it’s the suburban counties around Columbus. It’s the suburban counties that tended to have been Republican, that they are — whether it’s Loudoun County, Virginia, or in around Denver and Fort Collins or those areas, those used to be Republican areas. But they are places that are growing, that benefit from globalization, and that are pretty ethnically diverse. They are enterprising people who work in suburban office parks. And Donald Trump speaks to those people not at all.

    And so, to me, it’s not just Trump. It’s almost the Republican Party is losing what was the — sort of the enterprising side of that party. And when you do that, you become a minority party.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    What happened to the so-called Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez slice of the Democratic Party? Because they went out and tried to support a bunch of candidates. They didn’t do quite as well either.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Well, I think reports of a civil war in the Democratic Party and reports of a huge leftward lurch that will leave the Democrats in peril in November or beyond are, at least as of the results of Tuesday night, greatly exaggerated.

    A candidate who was the challenger, the sort of leftward challenger in the Michigan gubernatorial race, who looked like he was really a serious threat to the more establishment candidate, a woman, by the way, something we need to talk about, lost significantly.

    Some other more establishment candidates held on. So it’s not that the debate in the Democratic Party has been resolved, and we’re back to Bill Clinton, third way centrism. Far from it.

    But this was — for those who worry not about purity, but about winning, and winning in the kinds of districts that David talked about, where you’re going to have to attract, among others, college-educated white women, who may be kind of swingish Republican voters, this was good — Tuesday night was good news for kind of moderate Democrats and good news for Democrats overall, because I think you have — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can win in her district.

    But she can’t win in the districts that Democrats needs to win to take over the House.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Right.

    I want to shift gears for a second. Just the other day, the EPA was swatted down by a federal district court that argued that it had ignored science about a dangerous pesticide and said, reverse course.

    And the EPA under the Trump administration has, if nothing else, ignored the science about climate change equally, oftentimes their own science. And here we have an enormous slice of the country in a terrible drought. The West is on fire. There’s 100 fires, I think it is, in 16 or 13 states.

    And yet the conversation about climate change and our national policy is — it just doesn’t seem to exist.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, if you’re an environmentalist, there’s good news and bad news.

    The good news — the bad news is, the Trump administration is trying to roll back a lot of regulations and change some of the laws. The bad news is, they’re not very good at it.

    And so, just this week, one of the — their regulations got overturned by the judge. I think that’s the seventh or eighth major regulation that’s been overturned, just because they’re not doing it very well.

    If you expect them to be doing something about climate change, they’re clearly not going to do it because they don’t take the problem seriously. I would say, if we continued Obama’s policies, I’m not sure it would make any difference to the forest fires and to the heat wave and things like that.

    This is a problem with — I personally think we’re going to have to find some technological solution, because I just do not see a political solution coming out of this. But Trump is certainly not helping.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Ruth, I don’t mean to bring this back to the politics all the time, but is it simply a function of politics, that there simply isn’t a constituency that cares enough about this to make it a front-burner issue?

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Pardon the pun?

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Pardon the pun.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    I think it’s that the Trump administration came in on a very clear deregulatory agenda.

    I think they have been a — the courts have interfered in a lot. And courts can be pesky things, as the Trump administration has learned. But for all of his foibles, Scott Pruitt, ethical missteps — and glad he’s gone — but Scott Pruitt was an extraordinarily effective EPA administrator in terms of trying to undo these regulations.

    Climate change didn’t happen overnight. It cannot be solved in a single president’s term. But one of the most frustrating things is — and you look at this pesticide ruling, I think it’s taken 10 years to get this pesticide ban.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Right.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Think about the time it’s going to take to implement the changes that we need to implement in order to address global warming, even if the tech — technology will help.

    But we need to implement some regulatory changes. The Trump administration’s efforts to slow that down just steals time that the planet needs at precisely the time that it’s become completely clear to all of us, breathing this air, feeling this heat, watching these fires burn, that we don’t have that — the luxury of that time.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Lastly, and just one quick turn, David, the administration enacted some new, potentially tougher sanctions on Russia. And they last week made a very big show of cracking down on Russian meddling in the upcoming election.

    Does it matter that the president, as many of his critics point out, refuses to step up and publicly chastise Vladimir Putin? Does it matter that there’s a difference between the administration, seemingly, and the president?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: How so?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Our policy is micro tough and macro soft.

    And so that what the president says ultimately matters because, on the small issues, some of these sanctions are pretty moderate, the latest round, pretty moderate. But the crucial question is, does Vladimir Putin feel intimidated from interfering in our elections?

    There’s no possible way he feels intimidated.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    And that’s because you think the president’s not saying publicly?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, I think that’s because the president seems to be on his side in a lot of things.

    And, B, whatever happens within the internal workings of a White House can be — can go to some degree of size, but without president — presidential action, they’re not going to go and become a massive and important policy.

    So there will be little pricks that Putin may feel, but in terms of the big issue, is he’s scared of us, can’t be.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Do you have any — what do you make of that?

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Sure. I think, in the…

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Just a few seconds left. I’m sorry.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    It matters both what the president says and what the administration does.

    What the administration has done vis-a-vis Putin is actually — there’s some impressive, laudable parts of that. But presidential rhetoric matters, not just for the impact on Putin, but for the impact on other authoritarian leaders, who watch what they can get away with.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Ruth Marcus, David Brooks, thank you both very much.

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