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Shields and Brooks on Trump trade war risks, president’s political pardons

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the Trump administration’s move to impose tariffs on U.S. allies, the president’s move to pardon conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza, reactions to Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet and Samantha Bee’s vulgar insult, plus veterans are running for Congress in record numbers.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that bring us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome to both of you.

    So, Mark, do we believe that being a veteran this year is going to help these candidates?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think it will, Judy. And I will tell you why, why I think that.

    And I thought Lisa's piece captured it, but particularly with Mr. Avery there.

    We now are in an era, irrespective of how you feel about parties, of the era of self politically, the era of me. And it's — I was thinking how out of sync this era is with John McCain. John McCain's message in 2000, 2008 was to serve a cause greater than yourself and my cause and my country, which I have served imperfectly.

    Well, I think voters crave people who do have a sense of service, whether military service, certainly, but the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, that they have had a cause greater than themselves.

    And I think we're yearning for that in the country and I — it's missing in our national leadership. It's missing in the White House. And I think it's prized by voters. I truly do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, it's always the case that voters want to know how a person's character is formed before politics. And so strong candidates have military, maybe a business background, a faith background, something that will say, this is who made me who I am. It's not just being a politician.

    So, that's perennial. I think this year in particular the veterans are surging, in part — I have met a bunch of them through a group called With Honor. And what strikes me is, when you meet them, is they bring that can-do attitude that they all learned in Iraq and Afghanistan or elsewhere, and they bring that to office.

    I would say party identification is a smaller part of their personal identity than other people. They are running as Republicans and Democrats, but that's not quite the same team they grew up in, which is not the case for a lot of people who have spent their lives working as staffers, and then moving up ranks.

    And so they want to come to Congress and be less partisan. Whether that can actually happen is another question. Once you get here, you know, the fund-raising takes a ton of time. The party — the team spirit takes a lot out of you.

    So we will see if they can actually do it. But it's — they're certainly all amazingly impressive people that you meet through this.

    The final I will say is, so far, their win/loss record is not perfect. A bunch of them are losing too, which is what you would expect. So it's not a lock-in, as we heard from Lisa's piece.

  • Mark Shields:

    I will say the Democratic nominee in that race that Lisa just reported on in the 11th will almost surely be Mikie Sherrill, the former helicopter pilot.

    And Amy McGrath, of course, did win Kentucky last week, a colonel, Marine Corps jet fighter pilot. And I think do think, Judy, that the reason that veterans are sort of prized is that at a time of universal draft, when four out of five senators that served, now we're down to 7 percent of Americans who have ever worn the uniform, and just very few in the Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're going to continue to watch and see how they do as the year goes on.

    So much to ask you both about on this Friday.

    David, trade. After weeks of, I guess, on-again/off-again, are we or aren't we going to impose tariffs on aluminum and steel from our allies, the European Union, Mexico, Canada, the president says, yes, we are.

    The reaction has been very loud and very angry. What do we see at this point about the president's trade policy?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, trade tariffs are almost always a bad idea, because it seems good, oh, let's protect our industry.

    But the other side gets to do the same. And so you end up just hurting each other, which is — we're now well down that spiral of hurting ourselves.

    But I think what strikes me is Donald Trump's capacity or incapacity for relationship. Most of us, when we have a relationship, it's built on trust, predictability, reciprocity.

    And we are friends with Canada. We are friends with Europe. We are friends with Mexico. And we ever — does he ever have a relationship built on trust, reciprocity and predictability?

    The exact opposite. And so we are treating our friends like enemies, which is bad for our relationships. It's also just bad for our economy. And so he just has a mentality that sees the world as me and enemies. And sometimes that's OK. If he wants to treat Iran and North Korea like an enemy, that's fine.

    But when you're dealing with your friends, your employees, the people around you, to treat everyone like an enemy is just ruinous. And I think this is not going to destroy the economy, but it's just a bad way for America to be in the world.

  • Mark Shields:

    Every president imposes his values upon the country at some point, either consciously or unconsciously, and sometimes permanently.

    And Donald Trump is a man without friends, whatever anybody says. Any biographer could not find a friend. He doesn't understand the relationship like that of the United States and Canada. Canada has been at the United States' side at every major conflict, at every major international agreement.

    It's been there. And the idea of making Canada hostile, the object of the scorn, is just — is just unacceptable. It's not how you treat your friends. That is not how you forge alliances. It is not how you sustain an alliance.

    And I can understand the feeling toward China, you China, if anything, has been a favorite. I mean, where did the president make his greatest effort, to save jobs in China for ZTE after our intelligence forces said it was a security risk to the United States in what they have been doing and trading with Iran, against the protocols?

    So, I mean, this is a — unpredictability may be very interesting in the real estate business. It's, quite frankly, reckless and dangerous in international relations, especially with those allies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of friends and values, David, there was a lot of the attention in the last couple of days about the president's pardon.

    One pardon he's done for sure, and that is conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza, who was convicted for campaign finance violations. But he's also talking about pardoning Martha Stewart, who was involved in a stock trade, and then a commutation of the sentence of the former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

    This has just come out of nowhere, apparently.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Usually, there's a process where you decide some injustice or somebody is exemplary in some way and they deserve a pardon.

    Now it's just pardons for friends. And so he should just do the extreme right-wing swamp and pardon them all at once, because he seems to be doing them one by one, Judge Arpaio and now Dinesh.

    And so, you know, it's just — it's so political. And it's of a nature of taking systems of our government, which are ideally nonpolitical, the justice system, and making it, I reward my friends.

    Now, obviously, Bill Clinton did the same with Marc Rich, but that was a low moment. And now it almost has become routinized.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, there's speculation this is maybe sending a signal to the — to Robert Mueller, to..

  • Mark Shields:

    No.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … the federal prosecutors to say, hey, whatever you do, I have the ultimate power to pardon these people.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, this is not a dog whistle. This is a canine symphony.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    It is clear that anybody who's been interviewed and embarrassed or found on the defensive, thinking about copping a plea by Robert Mueller's special counsel and his colleagues, this is a way of saying, stick with me. Don't turn. And it will be OK.

    David's right. I think of Gerald Ford and the presidential pardon. He saved the nation, strife and division and hate and enmity, with trial of Richard Nixon. And he paid an enormous price for it. He was castigated by editorial pages, by both parties. And in his own lifetime, he lived to be vindicated, but it cost him the presidency.

    And you contrast that, of course, with Bill Clinton and Marc Rich, an expatriate who told arms to our enemies, a sleaze, and it stained the Bill Clinton presidency.

    But David's right. This is early, and this is blatant, and this is unsubtle, what the president's doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're a year-and-a-half in.

    You used term sleaze and stain. And that brings me to, David, the, I guess, I don't know, conversation this week about what initially started as Roseanne Barr tweeting something racist toward President Obama's former top aide Valerie Jarrett. Roseanne Barr was then fired by her network.

    And then you had Samantha Bee, the — or then you had the White House saying, well, there have been all these insults directed at the president. Where's our apology? Where are the firings there?

    Samantha Bee, the comedian, had something pretty awful to say about the president's daughter, Ivanka, so bad we can't repeat it here on the NewsHour.

    But are we in some kind of muck and mud in this country now in terms of our language and coarse, racist, and the rest of it?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I like to think we're hopefully trying to drag ourselves out of the muck. We have been in the muck for a little while. And it's caused by social media. It's caused by different standards on TV than used to exist.

    It's caused in part by Donald Trump setting new norms about what can be said, and then Trump's critics matching them. And so when you see a punishment for Roseanne or see the criticism of Samantha Bee, to me, it's a society trying to reestablish some norms and manners.

    My hero is Edmund Burke, a great Irish philosopher and parliamentarian.

  • Mark Shields:

    You're right. You're right.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    And he said — and this makes anybody a conservative — manners are more important than laws, because manners touch us every day. It's manners that either degrade us or uplift us.

    And so establishing the manners of a society is just super important. And when I see the firing, when I see the punishment for Samantha Bee and for others, to me, it's a society saying, no, there are limits.

    And it's important to emphasize that the word Samantha Bee used, you don't just walk through a door from cleanliness and then use that word the next day. You have got to walk through a lot of the doors to degrade yourself to that level where you think that's acceptable ways of speaking.

    And so I think, as a society, we're trying to close that — back those doors, set some new rules, set some norms, because, without the norms of manners and civility, life is just dog eat dog. And so I sort of see it as good news that at least the reaction is coming, the lines are being redrawn.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark.

  • Mark Shields:

    David is truly an incurable optimist.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    And he sees good news…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    No, really, I mean, I stand in awe, because, I mean, I have just seen a debasement of our national conversation, vulgarity ascendant, and compensated and rewarded in the marketplace.

    And I just look at it…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean because of Roseanne Barr's show was top in the ratings.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, but not only Roseanne, but her show was an example, I think, of where the market is driving this.

    And that's why Samantha Bee has survived to this point, in a strange way, is that she's a niche, a niche figure. And her people haven't turned on her. We will see if the advertisers do.

    It is — what she did, Samantha Bee did, was nuclear. This is a nuclear word. This is a — this is the universal most offensive word to women that I know of. And the idea that this wasn't simply out of the spontaneous monologue, this was taped, it was looked at, and it was distributed.

    It wasn't a tweet. And I don't know about — but I just found incredible hypocrisy on the part of the MeToo movement, on the part of a lot of feminists and a lot of liberals, that they have not been as harsh on Samantha Bee as they were rightly on Roseanne, who has been the godmother of every conspiracy theory in the world, attacking — I mean, this wasn't an isolated incident, her berating and abusing of Valerie Jarrett.

    She did the same thing to Susan Rice. She did the same thing to Huma Abedin. That was her modus operandi.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Samantha Bee still has her job.

  • Mark Shields:

    She does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As this point, as of tonight.

    Well, I don't know if we want to end it this way, but we're going to have to end this way, until next Friday.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thanks.

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