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Shields and Brooks on George Floyd, 100K coronavirus deaths

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including former Vice President Joe Biden’s comments on the death of George Floyd and what action it should prompt, President Trump’s approach toward Twitter and truth and the milestone of 100,000 American deaths from COVID-19.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    David, let's start with what Vice President Biden had to say this evening on the "NewsHour" in response to what's happened in Minneapolis.

    How do you read his message?

  • David Brooks:

    I was disappointed in it, to be honest.

    You know, I think, collectively, we have had one of the worst weeks of our lives, 100,000 dead, an economy still in freefall, weird conspiracy theories in the beginning of the weekend against Joe Scarborough, a racist incident in Central Park, murder in Minneapolis.

    I want to see more outrage. I want to see outrage at a president who's grown more contemptible by the day, including his tweets about what happened in Minneapolis. I want to see somebody addressing the underlying issues that lead to the inequalities in places like Minneapolis and all around the country.

    I just want to see a more aggressive Democratic challenger, who's really got broad arguments for collective change, structural change. I want to see a candidate who is as angry as he ought to be, to be honest.

    And I understand he's trying to be moderate and trying not to whip up flames. And that's all to the good. He wants to win over swing voters. But this has been an exhausting and a terrible week. And I want to see a leader who can reflect what we have been living through.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, are — what are you hearing? Someone too moderate?

  • Mark Shields:

    I agree with David. It's been a terrible week, a horrible week.

    But, Judy, this is a presidential year. It's a political decision. American voters have a rather strange quirk which repeats itself, and that is, when a president disappoints them, they go looking, quite frankly, for what was missing in that president in the — in his successor.

    And I think it's fair to say, as the only president in history who has never attained a positive job rating from his fellow citizens, that Donald Trump has disappointed a lot of people.

    And I think what they're looking for is maturity. I think they're looking for restraint. I think they're looking for somebody who is a uniter, and not a divider. And I think that's what — the job description that Joe Biden has to fill in 2020.

    What he had to say on the "NewsHour" tonight was thoughtful, was restrained, was mature. It was not stirring, as David was looking for. But I really think that the American people, the American voters are looking for that maturity and that judgment in 2020.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, what about that?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, it's a fair point. We want maturity. We don't want somebody who's going to go off crazy.

    But you can err on the other side. And I do think what this pandemic has done has exposed, as everyone keeps saying, the structural ravines in our society. And I do think there is a hunger for change and change of some significant nature.

    I'm conservative. I'm not for revolution, but I am for a comprehensive agenda, so that when the George Floyds in the Ward 3 of Houston, where he'd been living for so many years, and they're going to church every week, and they're serving in their communities, spreading their faith, and then they go off to Minneapolis, they're not going off to a world of danger, and they're not living in Ward 3 Houston in a world of danger.

    And I just think changing the structure of those neighborhoods has to be on the agenda here, not just police training. And I'm sure Biden believes this, but I just think that it's got to be articulated.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's a tall order, to put it mildly, to change so many of the things that we're talking about.

    Mark, how does a presidential candidate — I mean, there is a lot of understandable frustration, even anger on the part, not just in the African-American community, on the part of many Americans, watching what's happened.

    What's the — what's the right way to express that?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, I mean, there is a legitimate, authentic outrage. And there should be.

    I mean, Mr. Floyd joins the ranks of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray and — that are — of unarmed black men who died in police custody. And the fact that blacks die at a rate twice as high as whites on a per capita basis of police violence, are the objectives of — the recipients of police violence in this country is unacceptable.

    And the irony is and it remains that, in these poorest of communities, which are often crime-ridden, there's a greater dependency on the police for safety. And the relations between the police and the black community in this country are important.

    And this obviously sabotages and undermines it. But I don't think there's any question that we're looking for healing, rather than dividing.

    But remember this, Judy. We had the first black president in the history of the country elected twice, elected and reelected. And he was succeeded by the public address system of birtherism, a man who deals in theories that are so unacceptable and irrational, charging that his opponent, Republican opponent, Ted Cruz's father, who had fled Castro's Cuba, was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.

    And, I mean, so this is — this is the political landscape in which we're dealing. And I think that's the harsh reality of 2020.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And not only that, David.

    Coming back to what I think you said in your first comment about President Trump this week, not just in the comments last night about looting and shooting, but in other comments this week, that — I mean, Twitter instituted a new policy where they flag some of the president's tweets, including one that had to do with Minneapolis.

    Are we sliding down a slippery slope here? I mean, do we — can we come back from a place where we are now, where pretty much anything goes on — not just in social media, but in public discourse?

  • David Brooks:

    We're at the bottom of some big mountain in the Alps.

    You know, what Trump said about looting leads to shooting, he didn't make that up. That, he got from a 1968 Miami police chief who was a law and order, let's get the thugs. And that had — that is not an innocent phrase. That is a phrase that has a long history of brutality behind it. And so he went to that phrase fully knowing what it was going to lead to.

    And it follows a week — I happened to be on "Morning Joe" on Tuesday when Mika Brzezinski read out this dignified letter from the widower of the young woman who died in Scarborough's office 19 years ago.

    And it was a man who was just trying to defend the dignity of his family against rumor-mongering from the president. And I thought that was going to be the bottom of the week. And that was only the beginning of the week.

    And so what Twitter did to the tweet to mark it, but not eliminate it, to me, is the right thing. I think people need to see what Donald Trump is doing. And I remain resolved that this country can be united around — against racism, and — but marking it, because we should have standards.

    An Internet platform has the ability to regulate what's on the platform, and without having liability for it. And that's what the law says. And so I thought Twitter basically adopted the right policy.

    And the assault on Twitter, which the Trump administration seems to be trying to do, is an attempt to deny every platform's right to have standards of decency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, this happens to be the platform that President Trump, I guess he has something like 80 some million followers. This is the platform he uses to communicate with his followers.

    When it was suggested this week that he just delete his account, the answer was, no, this is the way I talk to the American people, to the world.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, not simply to communicate with his own followers, Judy.

    It's where the president announces appointments, announces firings, changes of policy, addresses the world. I mean, isn't — Donald Trump criticizing Twitter is like a whale criticizing the ocean. I mean, that's where he lives. That's where he thrives. And I don't think there's any — anybody can dispute that.

    I think the encouraging sign is that the criticism of him, especially on the smearing of Joe Scarborough and the allegation of somehow he was involved in the death of a woman who died when he was 800 miles away, one month after he had announced his retirement from the House of Representatives, I think — I think the encouraging sign is, when The Washington Examiner and The Wall Street Journal and even The New York Post tell the president, this is unacceptable, this is wrong.

    And, even politically, I think you can see Liz Cheney, the number three Republican in the House, now twice has criticized the president, first for his attack on Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in his tweets, and now in his tweets on Joe Scarborough, and saying, this is — this is wrong.

    And I can see that there is a political advantage seen, by some Republicans anyway, to distance themselves from Donald Trump. And, for that, I am — I'm encouraged.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last thing I want to ask both of you.

    And that is, David, this is the week we marked 100,000 American lives lost in this pandemic, just in a matter of just a few weeks.

    I don't even know how to ask the question, but what is there to say at a moment like this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, we have had presidents who have led us through moments of national mourning, and they step out of politics, and they uncloak themselves, and they just become sufferers among a sea of sufferers.

    And that's what Barack Obama did after Sandy Hook. That's what Abraham Lincoln did after Gettysburg, George W. Bush after 9/11, Ronald Reagan after Challenger. They touch the sources of our culture. They — Robert Kennedy talked — quoted Aeschylus after Martin Luther King was killed. Barack Obama sang "Amazing Grace."

    They pick the things that unite us, and they broadcast it back to us. And it allows us to have the presence of a comforter, a presence of a leader.

    And the fact that Donald Trump didn't even have an Oval Office address, to me, remains mind-boggling. And so we're a country that has to walk through this hailstorm of Twitter, at a time when we feel vulnerable because of what's happening all around us. And it's just an awful moment.

    And I hate to be such a downer on a Friday evening, but this is — it's been a bad week. I'm sorry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I hate to be bringing it up at the end of this week.

    But, Mark, in about 20 seconds, how do you pull it together?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, I mean, this is a unique experience for America, because those who are dying are dying alone, without the comfort of their family.

    Their families are deprived of the comforts of the rituals of wakes and funerals and memorial services and the company of friends and survivors who come to comfort them.

    And that at a time when we really do need the voice, that leader who can speak to all of us and for all of us, that is missing, sadly, missing.

    David mentioned Robert Kennedy in Indianapolis in 1968.

    Full disclosure, I was working for him in that presidential campaign.

    And he said, to those who are black, to the black audience when he announced the assassination of Martin Luther King, to those of you who seek violence, and, understandably, I had a member of my family — for the first time, he spoke in public of the assassination of his brother, who was killed. And he was killed by a white man.

    And what America needs is compassion. America needs love. And please go home and say a prayer for Martin Luther King's family and for the country.

    And that's what we need right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you both.

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