Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Donald Trump’s move to withdraw the United States from a global agreement aimed at curbing climate change-causing carbon emissions.
JUDY WOODRUFF: At the end of another week jam-packed with news from Washington, it’s time for Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
So, what is there to talk about, Mark, but yesterday’s climate change decision, the president’s announcement that the United States will pull out of the Paris climate accord? What did you make of it?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: In immediate impact, Judy, it probably means less in the American environment than the rules and regulations already repealed by his administration and by his EPA that were put in force, emissions controlled by President Obama.
But, in a larger sense, it belies and reveals that president’s sense about the world. The world is a dangerous, sinister place. There’s conspiracies. Other countries are not our friends, are partners. Everything is transactional. There are no fixed values.
We saw that, I thought most dramatically, at NATO, where the president showed an absolute absence of any historical understanding of American exceptionalism. And, as one who frankly subscribes to it that three times in the 20th century the United States saved the world from totalitarianism, twice in World Wars, once in the Cold War, and 124,965 American graves around the world in cemeteries, and 94,000 still missing.
And I just don’t understand. The president knows that it was for values. And when NATO has made mistakes, we have made mistakes. We have been guilty of hubris. But the world is a much better place because of the United States’ leadership. And this was an example of the United States working with other nations for a common good to preserve our planet. And he just turned his back on it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you make of the president’s decision and his argument for why he did it?
DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes, well, I sort of agree with Mark. It was nice to have an American century. We were a superpower once. And now we’re headed the way of Portugal.
No, it was — environmentally, I can’t get super excited about it. I think it was a setback for the cause of addressing global warming. But, as we have heard many times, it was a voluntary agreement.
And so this — and we have done a very good job, because of natural gas and fracking and other things, of reducing emissions over the last five years or so. And I presume the market will still work and the emissions will still come down.
And so we — Donald Trump could have addressed his concerns about coal workers and stayed in the Paris accords. There is nothing block. It was totally voluntary.
So this wasn’t about global warming. This wasn’t about the environment. This was about sticking a thumb in the eye of polite society, the elites, the globalists. This was a Steve Bannon-led thing designed to change America’s role in the world.
And so, to me, the effect is much worse on the global diplomacy and the idea of a world order than it is, at least in the short-term, about climate change. And the effects, I think, are ruinous.
You can’t lead the world and stick your thumb in the eye of the world. People — if you act extremely selfishly to other people, they will start acting extremely selfishly to you. And that is about to happen.
And so as the idea that America could lead the world and should influence the world and should have friendship with other powerful nations in the world, that’s an idea that took a big hit this week.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as we famously heard him say, yesterday, Mark, the president said, I’m here to represent the people of Pittsburgh, and not the people of Paris.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, no, it was a nice alliterative line that didn’t have much relevance in reality, Pittsburgh having supported Hillary Clinton and basically being a green city.
And I think it was a political statement. One can say, in defense of the president, I guess, he kept his word. He hasn’t been known as a truth-teller always. No one has confused him with George Washington on veracity. But he kept his word on the Trans-Pacific treaty, trade treaty. He kept his word on NATO and that he was going to belittle it, or at least diminish it. And he kept his word here.
And I think that was probably the strongest argument inside.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes.
Yes, I’m just struck by the fact that his is an administration driven solely by resentment. He will side with the Steve Bannon side if that position will alienate the people he feels resentful for. He will side with the regular Republican side and the budgetary, the more free market side if that will offend elite opinion.
It seems to be all based on some sense of resentment, a sense of social inferiority, a sense of fragile ego, him just wanting to stick the eye in the people he is resenting.
And I — more than any other time — we have talked about Trump not telling the truth a lot over the last year. But that global warming speech to me set new standards of just being irrelevant to the facts.
We devote our lives to talking about the evidence. We write these wonky columns about exciting things and this and that. And what Donald Trump said about the Paris accord is — just has no engagement with reality.
The fact that somehow we’re bound by this, somehow that we would be under some sort of legal liability if we didn’t abide by the Paris accords, the fact that the Chinese are given permission by Paris to do this and we’re not, all that has no contact reality, and it doesn’t seem like Donald Trump knows that.
MARK SHIELDS: He doesn’t.
DAVID BROOKS: As a number of commentators made, it doesn’t seem like lying. It just seems like willful ignorance and disinterest.
And we have had a lot of presidents with a lot of disagreements, but there has been an attachment to some sort of basic research, some basic contact with reality, which it seems there has just been a failure of intellectual virtue here. And because there is some underlying psychological issues which is he is working out, and whatever he needs to do that, the facts have to fit that lower reality.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
I would just add to that, Judy, what compounds it is not — if you are on the other side of the argument, you are not wrong, you are not mistaken, your facts aren’t incorrect. You are evil, you are part of a conspiracy.
And whatever one thinks, we are all, all of us, all human beings, are passengers on this little spaceship of ours with very precious supplies, vulnerable supplies of air and water and soil. And, you know, any attempt to make it rational, to make it just, to help human — make people more safe and secure and healthy is to be commended.
And he’s all of a sudden really did regard this as selling out the United States. And to cede to China the leadership in the green industry, is an abdication. He accused Barack Obama, and so did many Republicans, of leading from the rear.
And this is retweeting to the rear at every possible level. And I just cannot overstate the NATO — NATO brought a sustained period of peace, more sustained than any time since the French Revolution, to the continent of Europe. I mean, that is an achievement of such historical magnitude.
And to just dismiss it. He is not even aware of it. I don’t think he understands it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: From a purely political standpoint, David, the president, one assumes he think this is a smart thing to do. I mean, is it a smart thing for him to do?
DAVID BROOKS: I think so. Yes, I do think so.
Environment has never driven political voters, I do not think. I can’t remember a time when environmental issues really rose to that level. And any time you can pit the economy vs. the environment, say I’m siding with the economy, politically — again, not on the merits, not what I think of it — I think it is probably a winning issue.
Then, finally, just remember, this is an administration who is polling and whose interest is focused on about 12 states. And that’s a lot of coal country. And so if people in that part of the world, with some justice, some minor justice, see Donald Trump as their savior against the elites in Paris, then, politically — taking aside the merits, politically, I think it is probably a good move for him.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you agree it’s winning politically?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I thought Governor Jerry Brown made a case last night in his interview with you, pointed out that California has the toughest, greenest standards of the country, far more draconian by Trump’s standard, measure, than anything, environmentally.
Two million new jobs, a gross domestic product grown 40 percent fastest than the nation, in spite of, because of the greenness. So, I think a case can be made.
But I just think — I don’t know. I just think there is a limit to the isolation and this sort of — this defensive paranoid, whatever you call it, nationalism. It isn’t even nationalism. It is just sort of everybody, all strangers, they are all — you know, they are all bad. They wish us no well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: An us vs. them.
MARK SHIELDS: On every matter.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but do you notice how what used to be substantive disagreements turn into cultural wars?
It’s like the gun issue. It used to be the gun issue, gun control was about which kind of guns we should have floating around in our society. But then it became rural vs. urban. And the substance didn’t actually matter that much.
And one has the sense with global warming it’s a not about substance anymore. It is about what culture — in our cultural divide, which culture are you on? And so he aligned with one culture, a rural culture, which is his base. And that is why I think, from his point of view, it solidifies that, which he needs to survive.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it seems like a long time ago, but it was just — really just really a couple of days ago, Mark, that we were hearing reports about the White House in disarray, the president planning to fire or rearrange — fire people, rearrange the staff in an attempt to get beyond the focus on the Russia investigation, everything else.
You couple that with the Paris announcement, do you see this White House in any sense getting beyond, getting its hands around the dysfunction that appears to be gripping…
MARK SHIELDS: I really don’t. I really don’t, Judy.
I mean, just imagine yourself, you are Reince Priebus, you are the chief of staff, and complained to a friend, look, said he hadn’t been able to spend time with his children for the past four months. And what does he read every day in the paper? The president called him Reincy, refers to him as Reincy. He’s going to be ambassador to Greece. They are going to get him out. They’re going to replace him. Who is going to replace him?
You can’t be thrive, you can’t be productive in that kind of an environment, where you are looking over your shoulder at who is conspiring over here and what faction? Are you Kushner or are you Bannon?
And it just — Judy, they work long hours, they work hard, and they’re uncertain. They’re being sniped at. There is no appreciation, there’s no sense of shared mission. And the reward is when you tell the president what he wants to hear.
It’s the antithesis of Jim Baker and Ronald Reagan, where a president was secure enough and confident enough to ask a chief of staff for advice that he didn’t want to hear, that was tough.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Does all this matter, David, quickly or inside baseball?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, it matters if we don’t have an effective administration.
Reince Priebus has the ultimate job security right now, because nobody else wants the job, so they can’t get rid of him, because somebody has got to do it. But I do think it makes the prospect of a functional White House very remote, because you can’t get new people because they don’t want it.
The current people are in some sort of war with each other. And every time we hear about something internal, whether it was the decision-making over global warming, or the shambolic attempt to get an FBI director, it just sounds like disorganization.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And more reports tonight about investigations with the Mueller probe.
David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.