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Shields and Brooks on New Zealand massacre, 2020 Democrats’ ideology

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to analyze the week's news, including hate and tragedy in New Zealand, President Trump’s aggressive and “reckless” rhetoric and the latest updates from the field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And with that, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    We're going to get to politic in just a moment.

    But, David, I want to start with this terrible massacre at two mosques in New Zealand. We just talked to our guests it.

    What does it say about — I was going to say about where we are in terms of tone. What does it say about us as a human race right now?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, we're seeing a culture cry in pain and rage and alienation, a culture that's divided, that is isolated, where people are lonely, committing suicide at high rates.

    And one of the things some lonely people with existential angst do is, they turn into fanatics. And that's been the case all through history. And we're just at a moment of just cultural pain. And you get these horrific outbreaks.

    Some of it is gentle, relatively gentle, screaming at each about politics. Some of it is really bad, the suicide and the murder rate, the opioid rate. And some of it is horrific, which is these mass shootings that we see across Western society.

    And it's just the definition of our cultural moment. And the thing that Kathleen Belew said, I think, is worth repeating, that it's a movement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • David Brooks:

    And it used to be a movement or even a terror army was a group of people who had some internal structure and internal structure and institutions.

    But now they're radically decentralized webs organized by the Internet. And so, just because they have never met anybody — each other doesn't mean they're all part of one thing. And they are part of one series of fanatical ideas.

    And what's interesting is how they wink and nod to each other through their statements in their Internet or through their statements in their manifestos. And so they're quoting — this guy was quoting somebody — the guy in the Pittsburgh synagogue. And that's just a scary form of movement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For them, it's all of a piece, Mark, even though they don't have a leader.

    As David said, Kathleen Belew was saying a moment ago, this is — they're all about eliminating everybody who isn't white.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. No, I agree, and I was struck by Kathleen Belew's remark that it's a white power movement and a social groundswell.

    And I can't help but think that the amplification and strengthening of this institution or this movement has occurred through the Internet. The idea that if somebody held those beliefs in the past, there was almost a sense of isolation, because they were so widely unacceptable to most people.

    But now you get ratification, you get validation, because you can talk to people, whether it's somebody who is going after Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston or the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh or in New Zealand yesterday going after Muslims at prayer.

    And it truly is — it's worldwide in its movement. And it's obviously not based on anything other than that sense of anger, resentment, alienation, and hostility.

  • David Brooks:

    It should be pointed out the tendency to go after houses of worship is not an accident.

  • Mark Shields:

    No.

  • David Brooks:

    It is a form of anti-religion. It's faith or a movement of hatred.

    And this has not been the first time in history that we have had this, and so you get these war — moral wars. Somebody pointed out that, when the printing press was first created, people thought it would herald in an age of peace, because we could all talk to each other through the written word. And we got hundreds of years of religious war.

    And so open communication can have these horrifically negative effects. And Ryan O'Lieber (ph) said back in the '50s that existential anxiety, if you don't know what your moral purpose is, you turn into a fanatic, because this sort of white or black or any kind of racial power movement gives you a very clean moral logic. You know what your purpose is in the universe. And you have a clear enemy you can go kill who are inhuman.

    And so it cures all your existential anxiety, because suddenly everything is literally black and white.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you don't really right now, Mark, have an effort to condemn it, to say this is wrong.

    I mean, it's on the margins.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, we all know it's wrong. I mean, it is.

    I mean, but how do you confront something that is almost subterranean? I mean, it's not something that we run into, most of us, in our carpool or daily.

    There was just one moment yesterday on Capitol Hill, when the most powerful Democrat in the country quoted the most popular Republican president of the last century.

    And I would just like to read it. And it just said, thanks to the — quoting this president: "Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we're a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, always leading the world to the next frontier. If we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world will soon be lost" — Ronald Reagan's last speech to the American people.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nancy Pelosi.

  • Mark Shields:

    And it was quoted by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, at the luncheon for the Irish prime minister yesterday, Donald Trump sitting there as she said this.

    But, I mean, wow. I mean, it's just one of those moments you say, we are not who we were.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And it's an assertion that what joins us across race is more important than what divides us.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're talking about — you made the segue to President Trump.

    And I was going to ask this in the context, David, of the 12 Republicans yesterday in the Senate who went against the president on his emergency declaration on the border.

    But what has come up in the last day or so is a comment the president made in an interview with Breitbart News, the right-wing Web site. And he said — and he was condemning Democrats and saying they were the left. He said it's tough.

    But he went on to say: "I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people. But they don't play it tough, until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad."

    I'm contrasting that with what President Reagan said.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, again, he left out the Brownshirts. It is classic authoritarianism. It's almost Mussolini-like.

    I happen to think it's compensation. As a friend told me, a friend of Donald Trump's told me that he's terribly afraid of confrontation in person. He will do it over the Internet, but he won't do it in person. And so he needs to project toughness.

    And he admires toughness in the Saudis and Putin, in the North Koreans. And that's his highest virtue, but it's something of a blustery front, which is typical of bullies.

  • Mark Shields:

    Reckless beyond belief. I just — I can't believe it. Words matter, especially the words of a president.

    And he's not talking to Breitbart or any particular group. Whenever the president speaks, he's speaking to all of us and for all of us. And this was criminally reckless. It was almost sanctioning, if not condoning any act of violence by one of his supporters, armed supporters, against a political critic, a political opponent, saying, I understand it.

    I contrast — I just contrast it with the words of a Reagan or a Kennedy or any other president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I think, for some, it called to mind what his former lawyer Michael Cohen said not long ago, when he said he wasn't sure — well, when he was testifying before the Congress, he said he wasn't sure if the president would accept the results if he lost the election in a close contest. And he didn't know what would happen.

    So, we will go there another time.

    But let's come back to 2020, Lisa's report.

    David, Beto O'Rourke, he ran a good race two years ago — in 2018. But he lost to Ted Cruz. And this is a different field, isn't it?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    It will be very interesting. There are a lot of things I'm interested in about this race. It's very hard to imagine one more fascinating with different angles. One of it is the ideological thing.

    Beto O'Rourke is, let's say, ideologically uninformed. Like, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, you know what their policies are. They are very clear about that. They're laying a lot on that. Beto O'Rourke, it's more an Instagram aura.

    But — so there's the policy difference between people who are a little more moderate or unformed and people who are pretty hard-core. But then there's also the emotional register difference. Sanders and Warren and Harris, they tend to be indignant about what's going wrong in America.

    I'm now forgetting the name of the man, mayor of New York — the senator, Cory Booker, he's doing love. And Beto is doing charm.

    And one of the things that Beto and AOC have in common is that, at a time, frankly, when the left can be a little turgid, they're joyful. And I happen to think that's a reasonably good formula. But we will see what the emotional mood of voters in places like Iowa and New Hampshire really is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Love and charm, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    Love and charm.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's good to get to something lighter.

  • Mark Shields:

    It's a nice contrast with the incumbent anyway.

    But he ran a race that everybody expected him to lose, and he came close to the unexpected. And he energized in Texas people who had not been energized for generations. I mean, places where Democrats had not showed their faces, he showed up, got crowds and got people enthusiastic.

    He had an advantage then that he does not have now. He was running against a man who trumped the fact — trumpeted, not trumped — trumpeted the fact that he was the most unpopular man in Washington, Ted Cruz.

    And it was a claim that he could vindicate and validate by anybody — talking to anybody who knew him. He was the most unpopular man on Capitol Hill. So there was a large potential constituency.

    Now he's one of a dozen, 15, competing. But there is a magic in that connection, make no mistake about it. He does connect with people. And a primary is like a first date. It really is. Most people who run in presidential primaries have mastered a state. They become pretty good, whether it's Vermont with Bernie Sanders or Minnesota with Amy Klobuchar.

    Then all of a sudden, they're thrust into a strange place and they have got to connect with people over the other people who are thrown in there. And I wouldn't — I wouldn't bet against this fellow, based upon the magic he has shown so far.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As some people pointed — somebody pointed out the other day, there is something to having to political talent, however we describe that.

    But, David, the polls that have come out, whether they mean anything or not, have Joe Biden at the top, followed closely by Bernie Sanders. Biden isn't in yet. A lot of people think he's going to get in.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, don't believe those polls.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What does it tell us?

  • David Brooks:

    Those polls are not worth anything, in my view.

    At this time in the cycle, every time, they are referendums on the last campaign. And so Biden and Sanders are — were really big four years ago, and so they're at the top of the polls now. But I don't know how many months we are away from an actual caucus, but it's probably 5,000.

    And so there's a long way to go. And people — you look at raw political talent. The best way to look at candidates, I think, at this stage is like going to spring training and looking at rookie pitchers. Just how good is their stuff? And people with good stuff will rise. And people without good stuff will not.

    And his stuff, Beto's stuff, is casual, let's put it that way, the skateboarding, the video of himself in the dentist's chair. That too is stuff we're not used to seeing from politicians. And will it work with elderly voters in Iowa? We will see.

  • Mark Shields:

    There's no better pollster in Iowa and maybe in the country than Ann Selzer, who did that Iowa poll.

    But the poll numbers at this point in the campaign are like numbers written at the edge of the seashore, the wet sand. I mean, they're washed out the next time. I mean, it was Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton at this point just 12 years ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, don't get too excited about it?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I would not get too — but Joe — timing is everything in politics. And there is a certain melancholy that 2016 may have been Joe's year. He would have been the ideal matchup with Donald Trump.

    Donald Trump would not have carried Pennsylvania or Michigan or Wisconsin against Joe Biden in 2016.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will find out. I think we will.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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