David Brooks on Roseanne, Samantha Bee: Caused By Trump Setting New Norms About What Can Be Said

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PBS NEWSHOUR: 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.

Brooks blamed the racist tweet by Roseanne Barr and the use of the c-word by Samantha Bee on a society where there are no limits, something he said is the result of President Trump setting "new norms" for what can be said. However, Brooks was satisfied by the response to the comediennes because it shows society "trying to reestablish some norms and manners."

"I like to think we’re hopefully trying to drag ourselves out of the muck," Brooks said of the coarse language. "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."





"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," the columnist said. "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."

"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," Brooks said on PBS. "And so I sort of see it as good news that at least the reaction is coming, the lines are being redrawn."

Transcript, via PBS NewsHour:

JUDY WOODRUFF, PBS NEWSHOUR HOST: Do we believe that being a veteran this year is going to help these candidates? ...

DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES: 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...

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?

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...

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.

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...

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.

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.

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