David Brooks: People Have Made Calculation Trump's Achievements More Important Than Threat To Our Norms

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PBS NEWSHOUR: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join John Yang to discuss the week’s news, including the media blitz by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani over the payment to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, a new low in the unemployment rate and the attempted firing of the House chaplain by Speaker Paul Ryan.

Brooks said the threat to our norms is "serious and just poisonous to our country" but people have decided that they just care about the substance and that "the substance is pretty good on what the Trump administration has achieved." Brooks listed the progress on China-U.S. trade talks, the North Korea-South Korea talks, the tax cuts, and the "great" economy as examples.

"The effects will be long-lasting and they will be devastating for faith in politics and for the society. But those of us who are critical of Donald Trump can’t hide from the facts that go against our story," Brooks lamented.





Brooks also admitted he was wrong about being against the Trump tax cuts.

"I was against the Trump tax cuts," he acknowledged. "But the early evidence is that they’re working better than I thought. And so, in the first quarter, among S&P companies, capital expenditures are up 39 percent. That’s a seven-year high. That’s far higher than a lot of us thought."

He also said perhaps Trump's "terrifying tweets" about North Korea had some effect.

"A lot of things Trump said about North Korea are terrifying, and yet if it has an effect of unnerving the North Koreans, so they’re more flexible — and we don’t know if that’s the case, but there are some possible implications — well, then maybe some of those terrifying tweets had some effect," The New York Times opinion columnist said.

"It’s important to oppose what’s opposable and what is reprehensible and offensive. And we have been doing that, as I say, for three years. But it’s also important to see reality. And the more serious opposition will, frankly, be on disastrous policies or not disastrous policies," he finished.

Transcript, via PBS NewsHour:

JOHN YANG, PBS: We have had this spectacle this week or the scene this week of the president getting a new lawyer, the star of his legal team, Rudy Giuliani, coming out and contradicting him. Today, the president said, well, he will get his facts straight, he’s new on the job.

And then Giuliani issuing this clarification.

David, what do you make of all this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, when one person tells a lie, it’s what a tangled web we weave.

When you have got 60 or 70 people doing it, it’s like a universe of tangle. And so we have got just a universe of when did he pay off, who did the payoff, did Trump know, when did he know?

Frankly, I find it all secondary. The headline here is that the President of the United States allegedly paid hush money to a porn star. I mean, what else do we need for the scandal? That sort of covers it for me.

And so if people are willing to tolerate that in their president, then whether the campaign — whether the money counts as a campaign donation or not, which is one of the things being argued, to me, that is not secondly. It’s tertiary or something else. The main fact is, we have come to this point in our country where that seems normal...

JOHN YANG: And I know that you think that perhaps we’re getting a little carried away with this focus on Stormy Daniels and payments and all this sort of thing.

What do you mean by that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, you know, I do think the norms that he’s violated and the way he’s degraded public debate in the nation are a serious thing. We have talked about that for three years.

And yet, when you think the important things that have happened this week, probably the China-U.S. trade talks were a very big deal. The North Korea-South Korea thing is promising all of a sudden. The economy is going great.

And so apparently a lot of people have made the calculation, he has got always a bunch of scandals that those people in Washington care about, but when you think the big substantive things, things seem to be going fine.

And that’s the calculation a lot of people are making. And there are times when I think we get a little overhyped up about whatever Rudy Giuliani said this morning and we do lose sight in Washington of things like the China trade talks.

And I hate to sound like the earnest middlebrow guy, but that’s the calculation people have made. And I think the threat to our norms is serious and just poisonous to our country. But other people have said, no, I just care about the substance.

And this week at least, the substance is pretty good on what the Trump administration has achieved...

It will be. It will be.

And the effects will be long-lasting and they will be devastating for faith in politics and for the society. But those of us who are critical of Donald Trump can’t hide from the facts that go against our story.

And so I was against the Trump tax cuts. But the early evidence is that they’re working better than I thought. And so, in the first quarter, among S&P companies, capital expenditures are up 39 percent. That’s a seven-year high. That’s far higher than a lot of us thought.

Stock buybacks, which is just giving people — to shareholders, that’s only 16 percent. So the evidence from just the first quarter seems to be that what the Trump people told us would happen is happening, that companies are reinvesting the money.

A lot of things Trump said about North Korea are terrifying, and yet if it has an effect of unnerving the North Koreans, so they’re more flexible — and we don’t know if that’s the case, but there are some possible implications — well, then maybe some of those terrifying tweets had some effect.

And so it’s important to oppose what’s opposable and what is reprehensible and offensive. And we have been doing that, as I say, for three years. But it’s also important to see reality. And the more serious opposition will, frankly, be on disastrous policies or not disastrous policies.

JOHN YANG: Well, it’s sort of a mix of sort of the substance and also what’s going on, sort of the scandal is at play also.

We’re going to get into next week the beginning of the midterm season in earnest, as we start this string of primaries next week in Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina.

And we’re seeing in the Republican primaries a lot of these candidates trying to glom on to President Trump as much as possible. Does that surprise you, given where we were a year ago and where we seem to be going with the president, that the Republican candidates are running toward him, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, I thought that, as the scandals magnified, as the lies magnified, people would drift away from Donald Trump, including Republicans. But he’s got 89, 90 percent support among Republicans, so that’s not happening.

And then I thought, well, eventually, we will snap back and the — we will revert to the normal standards of civility in public life. But I was just watching ads in West Virginia of this candidate Blankenship, the guy who did some jail time for a prison — or a series of deaths in the prison — or in the mines.

His ad — apparently, he has decided that Donald Trump isn’t vulgar enough. And so the ad is crude, quasi-racialist, you know, making wild accusations about Mitch McConnell and cocaine.

There are really zero standards in this ad. Now, he’s not winning. He’s coming in third so far in the Republican primaries, but if that is the standard to which politics has descended, then Donald Trump was just John the Baptist, and we’re going to see a lot worse...

You know what is interesting, though, the national — a lot of the national campaigns are so ugly, and yet you go to the municipal and gubernatorial campaigns, and they’re a lot better.

I met a guy, Mike Duggan, who is the mayor of Detroit. And he’s a guy who said — they tried to run us-them tribal politics against him. And he said, hey, if you want to run that, don’t vote for me. But I’m just going to fix the streetlights, I’m going to fix the city. And it was, let’s put all that stuff away.

He got massive support from the African-American community. And people wanted a higher level. They just wanted a guy who would run the city well. And so you can depressed, especially at the national level. The paradox is, on the state and the city level, often, politics is working pretty good.

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