Saturday, June 8, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Gail Collins: Bret, what do you think about the Yankees? Who’s going to win the NBA Finals? Are you getting ready for football?
Never had a sports conversation in my life until we got this president. Now I’ll do pretty much anything to get him off my mind.
But, sigh, to get down to business: Are you still opposed to impeachment?
Bret Stephens: I think most Americans will gladly learn the words to “O Canada” just to see Golden State defeated. And I’m looking forward to a Yankees-Dodgers World Series in the fall.
As for football, it’s a dumb and dangerous game of maximum brutality and minimal movement. Just like impeachment.
Gail: This is one of the best transitions ever.
Bret: Impeachment will not end Donald Trump’s presidency, since the Senate will never vote to convict. Impeachment is more likely to help Trump politically than it is to hurt him. Impeachment will have to be based on an interpretation of the Mueller report that is, at the very least, contestable. Impeachment will further polarize the country and consume the country’s attention away from everything else.
And finally, if the real purpose of impeachment is to censure the president for his wretched behavior, why not just pass a motion of censure, as I’ve been urging for a while?
Gail: I have to admit I’m sliding a tad toward the I-word. Just as a matter of principle. Trump tried to stop the Mueller investigation. He told his White House counsel to lie. Even if there’s no proof that the president knew during the campaign that his team was working in tandem with the Russians, he certainly tried to cover it up later, by dangling the possibility of a pardon in front of Paul Manafort.
Bret: I have the same temptation. Just trying to resist it. Go on.
Gail: I’d like to think future generations could look back and say — hey, the American people wouldn’t stand for a president attempting to obstruct justice. So they got rid of him.
But maybe you’re right that we should just focus on the next election. Speaking of which, are you disappointed that the Republican Party doesn’t seem to be able to cough up any serious, principled opposition that would take on Trump in a primary?
Bret: Wait, you don’t believe that Bill Weld has the Republican nomination in the bag?
The surrender of the mainstream Republican Party to Trump will be a matter of political and even psychological analysis for decades to come. It is the transformation of a party into a cult. It is the triumph of hatred — of the left, of elites, of immigrants from s-hole countries — over principle. It is the collapse of moral judgment before the blandishments of political power.
What’s particularly remarkable is how thorough the collapse has been among the conservative intelligentsia. Right-wing intellectuals don’t go along with Trump despite his despicable personality; they do so, quite openly, because of it. They’ve concluded that he’s just the sort of blunt instrument they need to “own the libs.” And in a way, they are right: Trump does make the left go nuts. It’s just that, in the process, he’s doing incalculable damage to our political culture.
Gail: I don’t buy into the theory that liberals are going into some kind of left-wing Trumpist tailspin. I’m old enough to remember the anti-war/student power/black power era of the ’60s and ’70s, when the left was way more radical, and the rhetoric was even more over the top than it is now.
But the yelling was filtered through the press. There was no Twitter or Facebook or blogging, so it was easier to ignore.
Bret: Key point.
Gail: Look at the Democratic presidential candidates. There’s a lot of competition for the populist vote, but very few of them are tossing out hate-the-right sound bites. Unless you consider calls for impeachment to be extreme. Which is hard to do, given that we discuss the possibility very seriously all the time.
Bret: I definitely don’t think calling for impeachment is extreme. I’ve called for it myself over his violations of campaign-finance laws, before thinking better of it. Then again, John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado and long-shot presidential hopeful, got booed the other day by a Democratic audience in San Francisco for saying that socialism wasn’t the answer. There’s a made-for-TV moment for the Trump campaign. Other things that will help Trump: calls for slavery reparations, the Green New Deal, early prison release for violent felons.
Gail: Socialism gets a raw deal. I know people are afraid of it, but when you compare it with Trumpian capitalism, it looks pretty damned good.
However, I acknowledge that it isn’t a popular clarion call for a general election. Which is why getting booed for saying it isn’t the answer would be a great video if said candidate wants to appeal to moderates in the general election.
Bret: I know I sound like a broken record, but the Democratic candidate is going to be the underdog in the election, no matter what the polls say right now. Trumpian capitalism has produced a strong economy and incumbents usually get re-elected. That means the candidate will have to lean strongly to the center to win.
Gail: Well, not if a certain someone starts imposing tariffs all over the place ...
Bret: Tariffs: otherwise known as unnecessary taxes on American consumers and affronts to American allies.
In the meantime, there’s the real world to think about. I was struck, Gail, by the contrast between the massacre that took place in Virginia Beach on Friday and the recent attack on a group of schoolchildren at a bus stop in Kawasaki, Japan, by a man who killed two people, one of them an 11-year-old girl. The difference, of course, is that the American killer had a gun and the Japanese killer had a pair of knives.
Gail: You know, we’re going to go down the agreement trail again here. But we can’t talk about this enough, so go on.
Bret: I wish these contrasts would be drawn more often. Since I joined The Times just over two years ago, we’ve had massacres in Las Vegas (58 dead; more than 800 wounded or injured); Sutherland Springs (26; 20); Stoneman Douglas High School (17; 17); Thousand Oaks (12, 18); and the Tree of Life synagogue (11, 6). And those are just the worst ones that I can name.
Is there some formula where people actually start to notice the cumulative cost? Or are we doomed to live with this?
Gail: If there was going to be some moment when a mass shooting of innocents would trigger dramatic changes in the gun laws, we’d have taken care of the whole issue years ago after Sandy Hook. But all you get is nibbles, like the bump stock ban. The Virginia Beach tragedy has sparked interest in making it harder to buy gun silencers — it’s frankly not all that easy now, but I don’t see any reason they should be available, period.
Bret: Well, how else am I supposed to play at being James Bond if not with a wide selection of silencers to choose from? Sorry, go on.
Gail: The semi-collapse of the National Rifle Association because of internal corruption may make it easier for congressional candidates to run on rational gun platforms. And virtually everybody in the Democratic presidential field is already there. So I’m hoping for hope.
Bret: The battle between Oliver North and Wayne LaPierre at the NRA reminded me of Henry Kissinger’s quip about the Iran-Iraq War: It’s a pity both sides can’t lose. Come to think of it, “Can’t both sides lose?” would be a pretty good parlor game — past and present, fictional or nonfictional. Steve Bannon and Donald Trump, Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio, Theon Greyjoy and Ramsay Bolton from “Game of Thrones.” Or Brangelina. Plenty of intriguing pairings to consider.
On a more serious note, last week was the 30th anniversary of both the 1989 massacre of student protesters at Tiananmen Square and the 75th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings, which Trump commemorated with his visit to the U.K. and the Normandy beaches in France. These should be solemn occasions, but Trump managed to vulgarize the moment yet again with his gratuitous attacks on the mayor of London and Meghan Markle. After this presidency, will we ever be able to recover a sense of solemnity in our politics?
Gail: Would you hate it if I said that trivial times breed trivial politics? It’s true we have many, many profound issues facing the country — climate change being maybe the biggest of the big. But we’re not in any major international conflict and the economy is really good. In 2016, a lot of voters may have felt they could enjoy the luxury of being cranky and polarized because there weren’t any crises calling us to pull together.
Next time, let’s discuss whether there’s anybody on the political horizon who could bring us time-of-crisis solidarity without actually requiring the crisis.
Gail Collins and Bret Stephens are columnists for The New York Times.