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Shields and Brooks on COVID-19 suffering, Sanders’ exit

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in political news, including how Americans are holding up amid the public health and economic pain caused by the coronavirus pandemic, where leadership is emerging, the outlook for President Trump’s management of the crisis and the end of Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now it is time for the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    Let's — here we are, what is it, three weeks, Mark, since the first stay-at-home order. The United States is now — by the count we see, has almost one-third the cases of coronavirus of the entire world total.

    How is the U.S. doing in this fight?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think the U.S. is adjusting collectively to a new reality, a terrible reality.

    As Heraclitus said several thousand years, character is destiny. We're seeing character. We're seeing leadership. We're seeing society's heroes change, from investment bankers and leveraged buyout artists, to all of a sudden people stop and applaud hospital workers and nurses and doctors and firefighters and emergency people.

    That is a change. It's a recognition of the importance of what people — it's a recognition of what grocery store workers do to keep our country going. The sacrifices that so many people are making are truly breathtaking and admirable.

    And I think that's — that, to me, has been the signal characteristic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, how would you say the country is doing, both at the federal level and at the state level?

  • David Brooks:

    I would say we're hanging in there.

    You don't get a sense of great competence and expertise at the federal level. You do get a little more of that at the state level. The deaths are mounting. The economy is really crashing down around us.

    I am focused on mental health these days. I asked 6,000 of my New York Times readers to write to me about how their mental health is doing. And I was gutted by their responses. People are really hurting.

    There are three groups in particular, young people just feeling their hopes and dreams are dashed. And there's a sense of hopelessness, not eating, not sleeping, crying on the sofa.

    Senior citizens also very badly hit, especially widows and widowers, just that sense of just crushing isolation.

    And then those with mental health problems, those who already had mental health problems, who are now seeing these relapses.

    And so there's another curve, a mental health curve. And yet I think America is still hanging together. Faith in our institutions is pretty good. There's nobody rioting in the streets. There's nobody looting. There's nobody saying, we have got to do anything but what we have got to do, which is just hunker down.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, do you see the scaffolding in place, the infrastructure, whatever you want to call it, the support systems in place to help people at this moment?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, Judy.

    I think, ironically, it's Bernie Sanders' moment after that interview. I mean, if anything has laid bare the income inequality, the economic inequality and disparity in this country, beginning with health care, 10 million people, I don't know how many million of them have lost their health care in the last three weeks.

    But what Bernie Sanders talked about is laid bare before us right now.

    I will say what David — following up David's point about a confidence growing, it is, but it's growing in an interesting way, in governors, in mayors, in local government, less so in the federal government, less so in the president.

    The president — confidence in the president is not. And I think it's fascinating that governors who have daily television shows have done very well. Mike DeWine in Ohio is at 80 percent approval. Chris Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican, is at 73 percent, with 61 percent of Democrats rating him favorably.

    Donald Trump is not. Why? Very simply, because his daily doses, his substitute for his rallies are full of self-pity, full of invective, full of putdowns of those around him, of complaints that he's not getting the appreciation and attention that he should get.

    And contrast that with the governors, who are providing empathy, direction, information, encouragement, and facts. And I really think there's a distinct difference, and people see it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, what's your assessment of the president? He is holding these daily briefings, which sometimes run two, two-and-a-half-hours.

    And now he is talking about announcing next week what he's calling a get back to — an opening up commission, open the country up council, if you will.

    Is this what the country needs to hear at this point?

  • David Brooks:

    I think it is, actually. We need to know what phase two is. We know we're going to hunker down for a while. We have got to know what the world is going to look like when we come out of this.

    And there are no good plans out there. The plans that are circulating — there are a lot of private plans — they tend to focus on massive amounts of testing, way more tests than we have right now, and then tracing, where you have an app on your phone, and somebody, the government, I don't know who, Bill Gates, could — would track where you go, who you came into contact with, and you — if you contacted somebody with the virus, then they would like you know, and you would self-isolate.

    That is — that kind of pulling out of this is incredibly daunting, but it's something we're going to have to figure out as we slowly emerge from this.

    And so I'm glad the president's setting up this committee. The problem is — as I have been told, is that everybody on that committee has to be 100 percent loyal. And so if you said anything nasty about Donald Trump, you don't qualify for the committee.

    And that basically guarantees a very low level of competence from that committee. The North Korean-style loyalty tests are going to be crushing to the competence of any effort going forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting, because, when the president was asked about it today, he said he wasn't paying attention, Mark, to anyone's political identification, whether they belong to the Republican or the Democratic Party.

  • Mark Shields:

    And, Judy, at which point did his nose start to grow.

    I mean, this is all the president has done since he was acquitted in the impeachment, is to settle scores, to go after career professionals, dedicated professional public servants, who have given honest testimony. And because they did so, they're fired, they're suspended, they're ostracized, they are humiliated.

    We have a loyalty administration at this point. And that's one reason, Judy, why the next deal with Congress, it becomes almost impossible.

    Steve Mnuchin, the press [sic] secretary, has worked very well with Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker, but he can't deliver Donald Trump. I mean, his word doesn't mean anything. Steve Mnuchin says — but Donald Trump, as soon as the ink was even dry on the last legislation, he refused to honor the legislation and the obligation of oversight that the Congress has, when you are spending trillions of dollars.

    So, I — no, I really think that it's a — we're in a grave situation in terms of leadership.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other thing I want to ask you about that involving the president, David, and that is his firing over the past week of two inspectors general, one over the intelligence community, the other one at the Pentagon overseeing how this money is being spent to fight the pandemic.

    What do we learn from that?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, it's more North Korean loyalty tests. It's a political vendetta, straight and simple. And you got to be a total loyalist.

    I'm reminded that, in World War II, there was the Truman Committee, led by Harry Truman, which was the president's own party appoint — had this committee, which did everything on a bipartisan consensus, to crack down on profiteering and war profiteering, and phenomenally successful.

    And people in their own party were willing to look at the administration, if they could save some money, if they could save lives, if they could fight the war more effectively. And we apparently are not going to be able to get that.

    And so, when I look at the challenges facing us, one of them is just social trust. We have to have faith in our institutions, which means there has to be oversight. And we have to be — have faith in each other.

    With a lack of social trust, it's really hard to get anything done. And you see that on Capitol Hill right now, where the Senate and the Republicans and Democrats can't figure out what to put first, these small business loans or the public health loans.

    If we had a trusting institution, we'd say, OK, we will do one, then we will do the other, we're not going to have a big fight about it. But we lack that elemental social trust.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, a quick word about the inspector general decision.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, I mean, it's obvious. It's part of the vendetta.

    This is a — this is a president who feels totally aggrieved and totally liberated from the post-impeachment. And I guess it shouldn't — doesn't come as a surprise probably to those who were in favor of the impeachment that this is what he's doing.

    I mean, he's going after such trusted and respected professionals, and accusing them of petty partisanship, which is totally a bogus charge and unfair, and not only labeling their reputations, but, in many cases, ending their careers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you both about Bernie Sanders. We talked about that at the beginning, and his ideas for Medicare for all.

    We heard him say, David, he's going to be supporting Joe Biden, even though he knows that Biden is not going to embrace this. And this is Sanders' top priority.

    How do you assess his decision to suspend?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, it was inevitable.

    He had two problems. One, the party is a little to the center of where he is, and, two, he was never really good at working with other people. And so he wasn't able to build a coalition.

    I think the thing that's inspiring about Sanders, whether you agree with him or not, here's a guy who is fighting for a cause and has fought for it for decades, five or six decades, and he's never budged. He's been in the wilderness for decades.

    And his moment has arrived, to be honest. And so he's created a movement. He's given a new generation a voice. It's a very impressive accomplishment, to just stick to it, stick to it, stick to it.

    And I imagine he's still in it for the long game, whether he's president or not, that some of his ideas will come to fruition with a new generation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How much influence, Mark, do you think he's going to have on the Biden campaign?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think he's already having influence.

    I mean, we see the senator, former Vice President, former Senator Biden moving already on college and $15-an-hour minimum wage.

    I mean, Bernie Sanders dominated the dialogue of the last five years of the Democratic Party. And it was a signal achievement, what he achieved, in bringing crowds of people, of raising money, and from more people than any candidate, I believe, in the history of the Democratic Party, individual contributors. Just absolutely remarkable.

    And he set the terms of the debate.

    I do agree that the fatal flaw were two things, one within his control and the other outside. His campaign was never one of welcoming people who had differed with him in the past. There was almost a litmus test. If you had been wrong on NAFTA, Iran and Iraq, you were somehow considered unacceptable by many of Bernie's most ardent supporters, certainly.

    And the second thing is, once the virus hit and once our pandemic hit, he was frozen in ice. I mean, all the things that a candidate could do to show movement and support, whether it was rallies or speeches or hand-to-hand campaigning, was gone.

    And I think he accepted that. I accept him at his word. The toughest thing in the — a candidate, Judy, is not running and losing. It's admitting that it's over.

    And I think Joe Biden is showing great sensitivity by giving him both praise and time to heal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we appreciate both of you tonight.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you. And please stay safe, both of you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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