Shields and Brooks on Dallas police murders, Trump’s Republican problem

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss what they both agree was a bad week for America. They see little chance for an end to the increasing polarization. Both also had unkind words for presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton for dodging on the email scandal and Donald Trump for his failure to unify Republicans.

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    Now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome to you both, although the show, the program tonight, Mark and David, consumed with these killings of two black men by police in Minnesota and Louisiana, and then, last night, this terrible attack on the police in Dallas.

    What do you make of all this, David?

  • DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:

    Well, it's been a crappy week.

    We have had the killings. We have had, frankly, both our presidential candidates behaving reprehensibly. And so I think we're sort of at a moment where, on the one hand, a lot of harsh truths are being exposed, a lot of people who have been silent are speaking out.

    And some of that is about violence, as we have seen, against African-Americans. Frankly, some of the Trump movement, it's members of the white working class speaking out. And that's all to the good.

    The question, to me, is, are we going to speak out in a way that is actual dialogue and conversation, or are we going to drift into tribal thinking? There's been a lot of rancid overgeneralizations in our society, that all African men behind the wheel are dangerous, that all Muslims are somehow involved in terrorism, that all cops are somehow at war with communities.

    And if we can speak in a way that's not tribalistic, that's not making these generalizations, then we may make something out of the current moment. But I'm not always hopeful after a bad week like this one.


    Mark, what do you make out of all this?

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    Judy, I think that we all — or at least I — speaking for myself, I was overconfident, over-optimistic in 2008.

    I thought the original sin of America, racism, that it was a time to celebrate, that we had done something really rather remarkable in electing an African — and we did — electing an African-American president, and that, somehow, with — this terrible chapter was behind us.

    The constant in every one of these killings and tragedies this week is race. And I get the feeling, almost like 1968, that events are in the saddle. It's not Vietnam. There aren't 548 Americans dying every week. And we haven't had a James Earl Ray or a Sirhan Sirhan yet to assassinate our leaders, but just a sense, whether it's Zika, whether it's Istanbul, whether it's Orlando, that events are in the saddle and that things are not going to get better.

    And it's a dreary political landscape right now.


    Well, this is a year where there has been, David, a lot of anger and recrimination in the political conversation. How do the events of this week play into that? How do you see that?


    Well, it's a period of bad feeling.

    And when bad feeling happen, then walls go up and things close. And we're seeing a lot of closed-ness, a lot that things that were open, whether it was open trade, open free movement of people, open conversations, some of that's closing, or at least the impulses within a lot of societies, including in NATO, by the way, which we just heard about, between Eastern and Western Europe, a lot of walls going up and a lot of candidates proposing walls going up.

    And so when people are in a period of bad mood, then they want to hunker down and protect. And that's the exact opposite from what we need now. And let's be frank. It doesn't help that we have an American political debate with basically one all-white party.

    And that just means we fall along very polarized lines when we fall into the normal default position of politics, that we fall along racially polarized lines. And we have to acknowledge that's an inherently dangerous situation, given everything else that's happening.


    What about that, Mark? Are we just not equipped to deal with these issues anymore, that we have become so polarized?


    We have become incredibly polarized, Judy.

    I don't think if it's a consequence or reflection of the silos from which we get our information, and I don't have to listen to the other side. I can just get my own prejudice and perspective reinforced.

    But we are in a time of incredible political division, made more so by our polarized politics. And we — there used to be a great test in politics when I first started in the business, and it used to be, can you make a statement for your candidate for 90 seconds without mentioning your opponent?

    That's unthinkable in this election year, when, according to the very respected Pew poll, a majority of both Secretary Clinton's and Mr. Trump's supporters are basically voting against their opponent, rather than for their own candidate. And I think that's a reflection of the condition of our politics right now.


    Well, if you single out, if you look at Donald Trump for a moment, David, he clearly has been saying some things that have brought, I think, consternation to some. And people would say, well, there's blame to go around.

    But Donald Trump was in Washington this week, we were told, to try to bring unity to the Republican Party, to meet, sit down with members of Congress who are Republican to try to bring them on board, and it ended up, apparently, in his meeting with Republican senators dissolving into more name-calling.

    I mean, what — how united is the Republican Party right now with just one week to go before their convention?


    Not at all.

    He gave a speech earlier in the week, the Star of David, mosquito speech, whatever you want to call it. This speech — Mike Murphy, the Republican consultant, said he's always ranting, but, sometimes, he veers into full drunk wedding toast mode.



    And that speech was incoherent in its logic and random and what one senses in him, rising resentment.

    In that speech, he ripped on CNN. He ripped on whoever was in his way. And then he comes to Washington and he rips on whoever is not totally loyal to him, whether it's Ben Sasse or Mark Kirk, two senators.

    And so he's just filled with a resentment, even at this moment of incipient triumph, at least in the nomination. And so you see Donald Trump being ever more Trumpian, and rather than being more tame and more civilized.


    Do you see a little more unity in the Republican Party or less?


    I think there's a forced sense of unity right now, when Bill Flores, Republican congressman from Texas, says that very encouraging that Mr. Trump is making fewer and fewer unforced errors, and he thought that is great progress.

    I agree with David about the performance yesterday before the Republican Senate Caucus in particular, when he took on Jeff Flake, the senator from Arizona, and said, you're going to lose this year. And, of course, Jeff Flake isn't running this year. John McCain is. They have six-year terms in the Senate. I don't know if Mr. Trump's aware of that.

    But then beating up on Mark Kirk, who is an embattled Republican in Illinois, very difficult uphill race. And, Judy, I mean, where was Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, to stand up and say, wait a minute, you're not going to come in here, Mr. Trump, I don't care if you are the presidential nominee, and attack and belittle and demean the senators whose support you're supposedly seeking?

    And I just — so, there is a lack of courage, there is a lack of just common decency, it seems to me, in the Republicans right now.


    And, meantime, David, we know that the Democratic nominee to be, as you pointed out, has had her own bad news this week.

    As you may have seen, I interviewed her a short time ago for the program and asked her about FBI Director Jim Comey's conclusion that, no, there weren't going to be criminal charges brought, but that she and the people around her had been extremely careless in the way they handled confidential information.

    She said that is not the case, that that's wrong. But, you know, whichever way you look at that, what are we to make of this investigation, of its conclusion? Where does it leave her as the presumptive nominee?


    Well, I agree with both sides of Comey's conclusion, that she shouldn't be charged, but that, basically, the defense she has given us and for all these months was a tissue of lies, that she didn't have one device, she sent over 100 classified things, she had multiple servers, and that her staff didn't even look at some of the — some of the things they deleted as personal, some of the e-mails were actually business.

    And so she's told a series of falsehood. And, frankly, I thought her reaction tonight was a little off-tone, a little too defiant, when a little humility and a little contrition might be in order, given what Comey said, completely accurately.

    And so, if she had real opposition, this would have been devastating for her. I don't think it rises to the level of sort of indictable offense, but I do think it's sobering, and should be sobering even if you love Hillary Clinton and you are a Democratic, to see someone's claims be exposed as falsehoods so readily.


    Where do you come down on this?


    I was amazed at her answer. I really was.

    I thought James Comey, the director the FBI's decision was that she was — verdict was not innocent, is what his verdict was. And you're absolutely right. He deemed her people and herself very careless in treating — the way they treated confidential information.

    Judy, the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, the last poll, asked questions of personal characteristics. They asked, who do you think is more honest or trustworthy? And Donald Trump, not known as an ethical giant in most circles, was the choice of 41 percent. Hillary Clinton was at 25 percent. A meager margin thought her — she was more honest and trustworthy than Donald Trump.

    This is a real problem. It's been a problem, lack of transparency and forthrightness, all the way back to the Rose firm's billing records some 20 years ago in the White House. And I thought that there was going to be a start of almost a candor offensive, the fact that she was doing the interview with you.

    And I just think it's time for frankness and an acknowledgment that this was wrong, that they were misleading. And to me, it's not going to go away.

    The advantage she has — and it's an inescapable advantage — Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, ran for reelection in 1972, father of Justin Trudeau, it was a bad economy, and he said, the choice is — don't compare me, please, to the almighty. Compare me to the alternative.

    And that's her advantage, is that her alternative is the man that David just described, Donald Trump, who every day makes it about Donald Trump. I mean, he is an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.


    But picking up on that, David, the Republicans are saying they're going to drive home this e-mail story every day between now and the election. Is that smart on their part?


    I think so.

    I mean, the untrustworthiness is a core weakness. I have to say, I think Trump manages to commit political suicide on a daily basis, and yet he doesn't seem to die. I'm — my big takeaway from the race so far is he's only down four points in the national polls.

    And so, to me, looking at the way he has behaved, this should be a much bigger victory for — or at least a lead for Secretary Clinton, but it's not showing up that way because of doubts about her nearly as great.


    Well, it's certainly something that has our attention, along with some other sad — a lot of sad things this week.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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