Eugene Robinson

Washington, D.C.

Eugene Robinson writes a twice-a-week column on politics and culture and hosts a weekly online chat with readers. In a three-decade career at The Washington Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper’s Style section. He started writing a column for the Op-Ed page in 2005. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for “his eloquent columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president, showcasing graceful writing and grasp of the larger historic picture.” Robinson is the author of “Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America” (2010), “Last Dance in Havana” (2004), and “Coal to Cream: A Black Man’s Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race” (1999). He lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.

Sign up to receive Eugene Robinson's latest columns in your inbox as soon as they're published. Honors & Awards:
  • 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary
  • Books by Eugene Robinson:
  • Coal to Cream: A Black Man’s Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race (Free Press, 1999)
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Last Dance in Havana: The Final Days of Fidel and the Start of the New Cuban Revolution (Free Press, 2004)
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Recent Articles

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, May 14, 2021, and thereafter

(For Robinson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON - We now know the answer to the old riddle: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, the crash does make a sound.

For four long years, the federal government tried to pretend that climate change was either an illusion, a "natural" process or a hoax concocted for political reasons. The White House effectively ordered scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency and other departments to cover their ears and hum "na-na-na-na-na" to cover up the planet's escalating distress.

But now, in the reality-based Biden era, our government is once again in the business of honest -- and honestly reported -- climate research. The result is new EPA data and analyses showing that the massive impacts of human-induced warming of the atmosphere and the oceans are happening faster, and in more extreme ways, than when the agency was last permitted to publish "Climate Indicators" data in 2016.

The United States experienced an average of six heat waves -- "extreme heat events" -- per year during the decade that began in 2010,the EPA recently reported, using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That compares with an average of about 4.5 such heat waves in the decade that began in 2000 and fewer than four each year in the 1990s. Today's heat waves last longer and are more intense than they used to be.

For those who suffer from seasonal allergies -- like me -- it will come as no surprise that pollen season is also lasting longer and getting worse.

The ice sheets covering much of Antarctica and Greenland were shrinking only slowly until the 2000s, when rapid melting began, the EPA reported. This melting accelerated sharply in the 2010s. While that may seem a distant phenomenon, it has measurably raised sea levels -- which makes our coastal cities increasingly vulnerable to storm surge from hurricanes.

The oceans are warmer now than at any time since systematic measurement began, and because warmer water occupies more volume than cooler water, this also raises sea levels. "Every site measured has experienced an increase in coastal flooding since the 1950s,"the EPA says, with the effect being most pronounced on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. And while it is difficult to attribute any specific weather event to climate change, scientists say that ocean warming has made hurricanes generally bigger and wetter. Last year, there were so many Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes that meteorologists ran out of names for them and had to resort to the Greek alphabet for the first time since 2005.

Perhaps the most important sign that the White House has taken a new approach to these worrisome indicators is that the EPA is able to make this simple declarative statement:

"The Earth's climate is changing. Temperatures are rising, snow and rainfall patterns are shifting, and more extreme climate events -- like heavy rainstorms and record high temperatures -- are already happening. Many of these observed changes are linked to the rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, caused by human activities."

It's those last four words -- "caused by human activities" -- that the previous administration tried its best to squelch, pretending there was some sort of "debate" about what almost all climate scientists regard as a long-settled question.

As the EPA climate website notes, for the past 800,000 years, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere oscillated between roughly 180 and 280 parts per million -- until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Over the past 250 years, a blink of an eye in the history of the planet, the carbon dioxide concentration leapt to 411 parts per million in 2019, an incredible increase. Atmospheric carbon traps heat (as do methane and several other industrial gases). We are baking ourselves.

Before you can even begin to solve a problem, you have to acknowledge its existence and its cause. The United States government is no longer enforcing a policy of willful ignorance, and that is a beginning.

It will not be easy to persuade China, by far the world's biggest carbon dioxide emitter, to cut back its use of coal and other fossil fuels quickly enough. It will not be easy to persuade India to follow a clean-energy path to development, rather than use the perhaps quicker and definitely dirtier route taken by rich countries. And it will not be easy to wean the U.S. economy from coal, oil and natural gas -- even though the potential economic benefits of the change are becoming increasingly clear.

But under President Joe Biden, we will try. And we will proceed with our eyes and ears open, for a change.

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Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, May 11, 2021, and thereafter

(For Robinson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- The greatest threat to our nation's future is not covid-19 or the rise of China or even the existential challenge of climate change. It is the Republican Party's attempt to seize and hold power by offering voters the seductive choice of rejecting inconvenient facts and basic logic.

For the American experiment and people to survive, much less prosper, this iteration of the GOP must fail.

The blind-loyalty-even-to-dishonest-insanity Republican litmus test that is about to cost Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., her leadership job is only the most acute manifestation of the party's decline into utter irresponsibility. It's bad enough that those who want to remain in good standing must embrace the "big lie"about purported fraud in the 2020 election. But the requirement doesn't stop there. On issue after issue, Republicans are cynically adopting a kind of pre-Enlightenment insistence on the primacy of belief over evidence.

If some voters want to believe that covid-19 is somehow being overblown by the world's leading experts in infectious disease, then it becomes mandatory for GOP governors -- ambitious ones, at least -- to reopen their state economies, no matter the cost in needless illness and death. If some voters want to believe that systemic racism does not exist, then it becomes mandatory for Republicans to declare, as Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) did, that "America is not a racist country." If some voters want to believe that poverty is a choice made by lazy people, then it becomes mandatory for the GOP to try to force the poor back to work by slashing unemployment benefits.

There is, of course, often a huge difference between what one might want to believe and what is actually true. Genuine leadership sometimes requires telling people what they don't want to hear. But the Republican Party no longer even pretends to want to lead. What it wants instead is to obtain power.

But to what end? Historians may see today's GOP as emulating legendary King Canute in his futile attempt to hold back the sea. China is not just a boogeyman to be invoked when convenient and ignored when reality might require Americans to change to compete. The climate is getting more volatile. A younger generation is demanding change in everything from policing to the workplace.

Honest leadership would require leveling with GOP constituents about the impossibility of turning back the flow of history. It would involve telling voters that globalization and information technology have forever changed the U.S. economy. It would involve proposing solutions for the way things are -- or are becoming -- rather than the way some might want them to be.

And Democrats who want to make real progress on any of these urgent issues need a Republican Party with that fortitude. We laugh about the party being obsessed about Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss and whether a few transgender girls can run on their high school track teams at not just our own peril, but that of our political system.

This nonsense is being reinforced and amplified by a right-wing media machine -- not for ideological reasons, but for profit. And yes, the GOP base is still loyal to former president Donald Trump.

But none of this is an excuse for the way Republicans in Congress and at the state level are behaving. Public service is supposed to be more than an audition for a Fox News contributor job.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., understands how Trump's lies about the election led directly to the Capitol insurrection; he told us so himself on Jan. 6. But now he is ready to boot Cheney out of her high-ranking post for simply telling the truth and to replace her with Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. Relative to Cheney, Stefanik is a moderate on policy. That no longer matters. Her core qualification is a willingness to go along with the "voter fraud" lie, and presumably with other lies as well, in the name of her own ambition. Shame on her. Shame on all of them.

It is no secret that my own views are much more aligned with those of the Democrats than with the Republicans. But I genuinely believe it is good for the country when we have ideas-based, evidence-based competition between a party that leans to the left and one that leans to the right.

The scary thing is that this GOP, untethered from reality and the material needs of the country, is within a handful of seats of taking back both the House and the Senate. As exhausting as it is to acknowledge this, the 2020 election was just the first step toward restoring a shared reality. For Democrats, losing next year's midterm elections is simply not an option.

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Eugene Robinson is on Twitter: @Eugene_Robinson

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

Advance for release Thursday, May 6, 2021, and thereafter

(For Robinson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- Even after Jan. 6, Facebook didn't want to deal once and for all with President Donald Trump's poisonous lies, so it punted, first by suspending him "indefinitely," and then by asking its blue-ribbon Oversight Board to review the decision. On Wednesday, the Oversight Board punted back. Over to you, Mark Zuckerberg.

We still don't know whether Trump will ever be allowed back on Facebook and Instagram. But the board's report tells us a great deal about Facebook's ability to deal with hard questions honestly. It's not promising.

"The Board sought clarification from Facebook about the extent to which the platform's design decisions, including algorithms, policies, procedures and technical features, amplified Mr. Trump's posts after the election and whether Facebook had conducted any internal analysis of whether such design decisions may have contributed to the events of January 6," the oversight panel said in its 35-page report. "Facebook declined to answer these questions."

This is the fundamental and inconvenient question that Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder and CEO, has never wanted to face: To what extent did Facebook create the monster it now asks others to tame?

Seriously grappling with the answer might threaten the company's wildly successful business model. Facebook has amassed an astounding 2.8 billion regular users worldwide, and its subsidiary Instagram has gathered 1 billion. Setting clear limits on what they can say and consume on those platforms would require the company to ban some of the people whose attention Facebook sells to other corporations. Others might leave.

Trump was indefinitely "suspended" from the two platforms for rhetorically embracing the rioters who invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6. But he had spent years polluting Facebook and Instagram with violent rhetoric and toxic lies, and in the weeks before Jan. 6 he claimed constantly, and falsely, that the election had been "stolen" from him and his supporters. To quantify another facet of the relationship, Ad Age estimates that Trump's 2020 campaign spent $89.1 million on Facebook ads between April and October.

Twitter, Trump's other big megaphone, banned him permanently two days after the insurrection. Facebook tried to have it both ways.

The company wanted the Oversight Board -- an international group of 20 luminaries, convened in an effort to ward off government regulation -- to relieve Zuckerberg and other executives of the burden of making a final call about Trump. Instead, the board found that Facebook was right to suspend Trump's accounts on the two platforms, but was wrong to impose an open-ended suspension, which is not a sanction specified in the company's terms of service. Facebook should either have suspended him for a certain length of time or permanently banned him, the panel said. In other words, Zuckerberg should make up his mind. The board gave Facebook six months to clarify its policies and then begin applying them consistently, including to the former president.

The panel did find that Trump, who has 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram, "severely" violated a rule "prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence" when he cheered the insurrectionists who were rampaging through the halls of the Capitol, calling them "very special" and "great patriots."

Conservatives will surely continue to howl about "censorship" of their "free speech" by "woke" technology companies. Progressives will continue to be appalled at the use of social media platforms as weapons against our democracy. And anyone who hoped Wednesday's ruling would offer a template for how social media firms should deal with political leaders and other powerful figures who commit gross abuses will be disappointed.

Nick Clegg, the former British politician who serves as Facebook's chief spokesman, issued a terse statement saying the company will now "determine an action that is clear and proportionate" regarding Trump. Clegg also canceled an interview with me that had been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon to discuss the board's report.

Clegg's statement said Facebook will "carefully review" the panel's recommendations about how the company's policies about dealing with political figures should be revised and enforced. Zuckerberg has said in the past that Facebook recognizes a "newsworthiness" exception for some problematic content, but also that the company treats all its users the same. But even a cursory survey of any given week of Trump's Facebook activity over the past five or six years indicates that some users are allowed to get away with more than others are.

The First Amendment's guarantee of free speech does not apply to Facebook, which is a private company. But Zuckerberg has created what amounts to a vast public space. He can't "bring the world closer together" if he continues to let the likes of Trump tear us apart.

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Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

About
Eugene Robinson writes a twice-a-week column on politics and culture and hosts a weekly online chat with readers. In a three-decade career at The Washington Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper’s Style section. He started writing a column for the Op-Ed page in 2005. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for “his eloquent columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president, showcasing graceful writing and grasp of the larger historic picture.” Robinson is the author of “Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America” (2010), “Last Dance in Havana” (2004), and “Coal to Cream: A Black Man’s Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race” (1999). He lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.

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Books
  • Coal to Cream: A Black Man’s Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race (Free Press, 1999)
  • Last Dance in Havana: The Final Days of Fidel and the Start of the New Cuban Revolution (Free Press, 2004)
Awards
  • 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary
Links