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Shields and Brooks on race in America, Trump’s response

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest news, including public opinion of the nationwide protests over police treatment of black Americans, President Trump’s response and use of force to dispel protesters and the reaction of prominent military leaders to his handling of the situation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    To help us make sense of a week that brought protesters to the — into the streets in more than 700 American cities and towns, the analysis of Shields and Brooks.

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

    So, hello to both of you.

    What about these protesters, Mark? I have just been talking with Mayor Garcetti of Los Angeles about it, but, as we said, 700 cities and towns across the country, thousands and thousands of people in the streets. It started out about George Floyd. It's become, I think it's fair to say, something much bigger than that.

    What do you make of it?

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, it's quite unlike anything I have ever seen.

    The — most protests here in Washington involve the usual suspects on both sides. Those are committed partisans, in some cases, zealots, who show up regularly.

    This is remarkable in its composition. It's people who are not protesters, who are not political activists. At the same time, even though it's spawned by, inspired by the tragic death of George Floyd, it is not specifically racial. There's a very large white composition in it.

    And that, to me, is rather remarkable, the reach of it. It's reached not only the major cities, but small towns worldwide. I think this is of enormous significance. And it can't be of little consolation to George Floyd's family and loved ones, but his death is having — his murder is having an enormous impact on this country. And it will not be just transitory. I think it will be permanent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You think it will — David, do you think this is a different moment? We have seen moments of protest. We have seen police-involved killings of black men.

    What's different this time?

  • David Brooks:

    I would say it's a combination of things.

    I sort of think of it as a hurricane that's happening in an earthquake. The earthquake started in 2014 with Ferguson, with a lot of terrorist killings, then with the election of Donald Trump. And we saw ravines open up in our society. We saw divides in politics. We saw racial divides, economic divides, obviously.

    And into this comes first a pandemic, just pouring water and exposing all the divides, and then this killing, this murder, which exposes them more. And then you get this generational turnover. You have had a generation of people under 35 who've seen the financial crisis, who've seen a bit of the war in Iraq maybe, but who've seen nothing on global warming.

    And so this is a generation that is fed up. And, frankly, a lot of people in the African-American community are fed up. The word I keep hearing is exhausted.

    And so I do think, when you calculate the depth of the ravines that are being exposed, with a generational change, with a sense of America finally turning to race as maybe the central storyline in our history or our story right now, these are just big, epic shifts.

    And I do think it's like one of those big shifts that happen periodically in American history, '68 or 1890 or 1830. And I think we're in the middle of something — I agree with Mark. I think it's not just a moment. It's a climactic shift.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, a shift.

    Will it lead to something distinctly different, though, from what we have today? Because these protesters, as we have just been discussing, they want police departments defunded, or they want budgets cut. They want real change. They want more African-Americans elected to office, and many, many other demands about — around education, around housing, around communities.

    Are those things really going to change?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, I think there's demands, and there's demands.

    I think Mayor Garcetti made a good point that both the African-American community and the police need each other. They truly do. I mean, African-Americans disproportionately live in high-crime areas. And they do want an engaged, principled and activist work — police force working to preserve peace and order in their community.

    But I think we're far beyond the prayers and thoughts, reaction. I think there's an awakening in this country to the fact that African-Americans, people of color have been treated — and it's irrefutable — been treated differently in law enforcement, and unfairly.

    I don't think there's any question about that.

    I do find it encouraging that two institutions that have been sort of sidelined, it seems, in our country that were so much involved in the American civil rights movement and were — played principle roles this week.

    I thought Bishop Budde of the Episcopal Church here in Washington spoke up so forcefully about the photo-op using and abusing her church. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the African-American Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C., spoke out strenuously, emphatically against using religious places and symbols to exploit political advantage, especially when the message isn't one of inclusiveness or justice.

    So — and the United States military — it's no accident that the United States military, the most integrated institution in our society, that the words of people like General Martin Dempsey and Admiral Mike McMullen — Mike Mullen, to add to Mike Hayden, Stanley McChrystal, and Admiral McRaven, as well as, of course, General Mattis, you know, and the reaction of the military, I think, was encouraging.

    And so I'm hopeful.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, I do want to ask you both about the president and bring in the use of the military.

    But, just quickly, do you think there will be real change coming out of what we're seeing?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I look at the polls.

    And we never used to get polls where it was 50 — where it was above 55 percent for anything. We were completely an evenly divided country. And now we had a poll, PBS/Marist poll, 67 percent disapproving of the way Donald Trump is reacting to this moment, 67 percent reaction to the lockdown.

    We had 67, 77 percent. Again and over the course of the last three months, we have had polls in the 60s and 70s. It looks to me like we're a less divided country than they were, Joe Biden opening up now an eight-point lead on the average polls.

    So, I mean, the dumb thing to say is, we're moving left. And the pandemic and this event have just underlined the inequalities in America. And whether you like it or not, I just think that's the reality, if you look at the evidence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, let's — let me turn you to what Mark brought up. And that is the president invoking the military, I mean, having the military, armed people out in the streets, troops clearing the streets forcefully to make way, so that he could walk across the area, the — Lafayette Square, to hold the Bible in front of St. John's Church.

    A lot of pushback, as Mark reminded us, from former military officials. Even — we're even seeing current military leaders pull back.

    Is this a moment of turn for this president, do you think?

  • David Brooks:

    I do. I mentioned the polling.

    But, listen, he's been a bully for a long time, but he was a bully over Twitter, and maybe he was a bully to the press. But now he's using U.S. troops to be a bully.

    I think what set General Mattis off was just watching the military, which is a fine, unprofessional and unpoliticized — I mean, professional, but unpoliticized organization, suddenly turned into a prop in a campaign video. And I think that turned his stomach, as it should turn all our stomachs.

    But I think what mystifies me — and it goes back to what you were talking about with Mayor Garcetti — is, you have a president who's taken this authoritarian line of domination, be dominant, unleash vicious dogs and dangerous weapons.

    And that's not only just talk anymore. And it swings through the Republican Party and Senator Tom Cotton's tweets about no quarter given. We're going to dominate our fellow citizens, as if they are enemy.

    And then I think it bleeds down to the police and the videos we have already seen tonight. It's a theme that is coming from the top, from the White House, a theme of brutalism, of mental brutalism. And it affects people.

    And what we have seen coming out of the White House has been a more dangerous contagion than even with all the outrages of the past.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, David raised the — it's term, and the president used it again today. We need to dominate, he said, even as they are now announcing they're going to pull uniformed military out of the streets of Washington.

    But the orders are there. I mean, we know what happened this week. We know that the president talked about calling out the National Guard. He urged governors to use the National Guard. He said they were weak, would look like fools if they didn't.

    And we're left with the reminders of this.

  • Mark Shields:

    This is the world of Donald Trump, to be very blunt about it.

    Admiral Mattis may have put it best at the Al Smith Dinner in New York last fall, which I'm sure didn't escape the president's attention, when he said, I earned my spurs. I, General Mattis, earned my spurs in battle, and Donald Trump earned his spurs in a doctor's letter.

    And that's the toughness, that's sort of the phony toughness of Donald Trump, the swagger. When his number and his chance came up to serve and to get tough, he, of course, ran and scurried personally. But he's somebody who wants to bully other people.

    And he does not — I guess what bothers me more than anything else — I saw him today in act that Jack Reed, the senator from Rhode Island, a very respected member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has called pretty and preposterous, pulling 9,500 American troops out of Germany to — why? Out of spite and out of pettiness, because Mrs. Merkel declined his invitation to be part of the photo-op of the G7 at Camp David next month, because — on the very legitimate grounds of coronavirus.

    So, I mean this is — the president, he does not understand the military. It's kind of a crazy swagger, John Wayne movie version of it. Most military people — I just miss John McCain so much. If John McCain were alive today, it would be scorching and scalding, the rhetoric he would be directing at this president of his own party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, as we wrap up our conversation, what hope can we take into the weekend?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, listen, these rallies, most of the cops have been great. They have been fine. They have been dancing with people. They have been kneeling with people. They have been talking to people.

    We cover the extremes. And that's what we do. It's where the conflict is, and maybe it's where the (AUDIO GAP) history is. But most of the protests, we have all seen them. They have been calm and peaceful. They have been dedicated to policy. They have been dedicated to fundamental change. And they have been warm.

    And even amidst the anger, there's comradeship there. And most of the cops have done their job. And so we shouldn't take the extremes for what is going on in the middle, which is pretty damn good.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On that note, David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, to all of you, please join us tonight, "Race Matters: America in Crisis." It is a "PBS NewsHour" prime-time special. We will hear from powerful voices on inequality, policing, and the African-American experience.

    Tune in at 9:00 Eastern on your local PBS station or online at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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