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Shields and Brooks on leadership in a time of crisis

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including the unique magnitude of the novel coronavirus pandemic, how President Trump is handling the crisis, what the government should do to reassure fearful Americans, and how the outbreak might affect the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, with their own take on the pandemic that has seemingly taken over our lives, it's time for the analysis of Shields and Brooks.

    That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    It's been a week like no other that I can remember.

    Mark, where are we? What — how do you make sense of what's going on right now?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, the only way I could make sense of it is by what we have been through before.

    I mean, I would compare it, Judy, to the time after World War II began or the polio epidemic in the '50s. And there was — it was a time of collective national sacrifice. Everybody was in it together. We were all at risk.

    And it was — and especially after the beginning to have the war, it was a time of collective sacrifice, where there were shortages of alcohol, tobacco, meat, butter, you name it. But Americans, through 20 million victory gardens, raised a third of the country's vegetables. They saved tin. They sacrificed collectively.

    The president of the New York Stock Exchange went in the Army for $21 a month as a private, William McChesney Martin, later chairman of the Federal Reserve.

    And at the time of polio, there was terror in the country. We closed bowling alleys, and swimming pools, and beaches in the summer; 497,000 Americans were paralyzed, and then that magical moment in 1955 when there was a cure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    But that's all I can — that's where we are.

    That's where — it's the unknown.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … terror.

  • Mark Shields:

    It's the unknown, and there's a sense of terror.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can we make sense of it, David? How do we get our arms around it?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, there are two issues. Maybe I should deal with them separately.

    One is the political leadership issue, and one is the moral and social issue.

    And just on political, I found it an enraging week. We sat here many years ago, when we saw images of Katrina and bodies floating in New Orleans. And I think both Mark and I felt a deep sense of anger.

    And I feel a deep sense of anger that our government has responded so badly.

    And, frankly, it's — this is what happens when you elect a sociopath as president, who doesn't care, who has treated this whole thing for the past month as if it's about him, how do people like me, minimizing the risks, does the stock market reflect well on me, and he hasn't done the things a normal human being would do, which was to, let's take precautions.

    Let's do the backup things we need to do. Any president would sit down with his team and say, people will suffer here. Let's get ready.

    And he's incapable of that. And he's even created an information distortion field around him. Even today, the press conference today was all his propaganda. It wasn't honest with people.

    And then with Yamiche's perfectly good question about an agency, maybe he didn't know when that part of the National Security Council was shut down, but he should know about it by now.

    And so the fact that he wasn't even aware of this is a sign that nobody is willing to tell him bad news. And we have got a dysfunctional process at the heart of the administration at a time of great national crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    With all that going on, Mark, how does that affect Americans' ability to get through this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, it affects it in many respects. And I don't disagree with what David said.

    It's global, Judy. And America first fails. If there's ever a time for international cooperation, collegiality at a personal and national level, professional level, this is it.

    I mean, I think if Americans were informed and put to the test, whom do you want — who do you want in charge of this, this epidemic, Dr. Tony Fauci or Donald Trump, they would — anybody who have watched would say Dr. Tony Fauci.

    I mean, he's knowledgeable, he's straight, he's direct, he's candid, he's thoughtful. He's everything that we want.

    The president is impulsive and uninformed. He has misled the people that it was contained. Any president of the United States saying he's going to leave Americans on a boat docked off of California, rather than bring them ashore for treatment because they might — because it would increase the number of people, would hurt his numbers, would hurt my numbers, that's somebody not lacking in empathy.

    That's somebody with an empathy void. And it just — to me, it's — I think it's a seminal moment in the Trump presidency, when we realize, in spite of my 401(k) having been terrific, now all of a sudden it's at jeopardy, and he really puts the nation at jeopardy and the health of my family and my friends at jeopardy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is there someone Americans can look to for guidance, for an example and for leadership at a time like this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, Tony Fauci, Francis Collins, the head of NIH.

    A lot of the state and local — the governors have been pretty fantastic.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

    Tony — Andrew Cuomo.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, Andrew Cuomo.

    And so I do think there are some leaders out there. And look to each other. I mean, as everyone has said, it's quite remarkable how the country has responded, responded with all the social distancing and all the very drastic measures that have been taken.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • David Brooks:

    It should be said, we shouldn't expect that wonderfulness to continue.

    I have spent the last week reading about pandemics in the past. And they're not good for social trust. People go into them thinking, I'm going to be a good soldier and citizen for people around me.

    But when the fear gets going, they stop seeing each other. They stop caring about each other. They stop volunteering.

    I have always wondered why the 1918 Spanish Flu that happened here killed 675,000 Americans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hard to imagine. Impossible to imagine.

  • David Brooks:

    And it left no trace on the national culture. And I have always wondered, why was that?

    And reading about what it was like, people were ashamed of how they behaved, because they looked after themselves. And that's understandable. Fear is just this terrible thing. And we haven't really been hit by the raw, gut-wrenching fear of seeing hospitals overwhelmed and stuff like — but we will.

    And we sort of need to take moral steps and social steps, as well as we take health steps, to sort of mitigate that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we know, Mark, it is going to get worse.

    I mean, we see Tony Fauci talking about it's either going to go up like this and — before it comes down, or we can mitigate it somehow, by the social distancing, and the rest of it.

    But we are in a moment when we are looking for guidance, and we're also in the middle of a presidential campaign. We have got Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders still campaigning, although it's been moved — shoved to the sidelines this week.

  • Mark Shields:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The two of them the last few days have made statements. They have talked about what needs to be done.

    Do we see something going on there that gives the American people hope?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I hope so.

    I mean, I thought both statements yesterday, I thought particularly Biden's, were quite thoughtful, to use an adjective not loosely, presidential, they were reflective, and given it a serious and — there is — as Vice President Biden said, there's no zip code on this. This isn't a foreign threat. I mean, this isn't something organized by the Chinese communist politburo.

    I mean, this is no respecter of state of status or station or anything of the sort. And I thought that — I thought that came through.

    As far as the election, I feel bad for Senator Sanders, because you're behind. And how do you catch up? You catch up by showing enthusiasm, by showing and drawing crowds, by showing energy.

    All right, all of a sudden, you can't do that anymore. I mean, you're not going to have crowds. You're not going to be out there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Not going to have rallies.

  • Mark Shields:

    You're not going to have rallies.

    So it's almost frozen in time. I think the debate Sunday night takes on greater importance. And I would commend it, because there is no audience. And I would hope that would be the pattern for future debates.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No live audience.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    No live audience, because live audience brings out the worst in candidates. They pander. They look for applause lines. They taunt.

    And I just think — I think this will be a serious debate between two people.

    But Joe Biden carried every county in Michigan. I mean, that was just sobering. I mean, the turnout was up 31 percent. And it almost all went to Biden. I mean, Bernie Sanders was stuck where he was in 2016.

    So I don't know where the hope is for him. Biden is now heading to state of Washington as of 4:00 this afternoon.

  • David Brooks:

    And Florida's coming. Yes, I don't see much hope for Bernie Sanders.

    I would also say the dynamic changes, because you — Sanders is running on a revolution. Trump ran on a revolution. Oh, we should get rid of the establishment and drain the swamp, as the Republicans say.

    Well, in a time of pandemic, you really need the establishment. The establishment is pretty good. You don't want to burn the system at a moment when people are dying and when diseases are spreading.

    And so the idea that the swamp is something you need is something that's hit everybody suddenly very hard. And all the Trumpians saying, where are the tests, where the tests, why doesn't the government do this for me, well, if ever there had been a reminder of why we need the institutions of our government, that's what we're in the middle of.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Sanders is saying that if there ever was a reminder that all Americans have a right to health care, this is it.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And he, just quickly, Mark, has said, I have got these questions for Joe Biden.

    He clearly wants Joe Biden, who he seems to acknowledge is going to win this nomination…

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … to adopt some of his more progressive…

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, and I think probably the $15-an-hour minimum wage, I think Bernie Sanders can make the case that he's moved the party to the left.

    I don't think this the acrimony that there was there in 2016. Bernie Sanders cannot say it was rigged. He participated in the change of the rules to limit the influence of superdelegates to lead to more primaries, to — and made the case that someone who has a plurality ought to be the nominee.

    And it's going to be hard. And the question is, can he bring his people with him?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you do have — I mean, as both of you are saying, now that we have coronavirus in front of us, this presidential race takes a backseat.

    I mean, it's a different — it's a different environment.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, it certainly takes a backseat and becomes a very different race…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It becomes a very different race.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    … as we begin to look for somebody who can actually run a government.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And with Joe Biden and moving into the front, though, David, I mean, do we then just see the end of this process coming in a week? We have got a few more primaries coming on Tuesday.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, from the political — I mean, if this had to happen, this was a lucky moment for happening in the political process. We have sort of got our nominees.

    It's not a terrible thing to forget about politics for a little while and focus on something more important. And so I think the country will do that. And then, hopefully, this will be over by the summer or sometime, and then we can refocus.

    There's plenty of time to think about the president…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    I'm just going to end with a Republican quote.

    And that is Dwight Morrow, who was the father of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Republican from New Jersey, said that a political party which takes credit for the rain shouldn't be surprised when its opponents fault it for the drought.

    And the fact is that Donald Trump has said, all the increases in the stock market, the dramatic uptake, are because of him and his policies and the confidence in him. Your 401(k)s have doubled because of him.

    And now the drought has set in. And I think this is the one area where Donald Trump has had positive rates from a majority of Americans — positive ratings, 56, 57 percent on the economy. And that is in jeopardy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields. David Brooks, thank you.

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