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. 
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)

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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 Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)

By EUGENE ROBINSON

WASHINGTON -- I want to hear the Democratic presidential candidates explain, convincingly, how they're going to beat Donald Trump. Then I want to hear how they propose to repair the devastating damage Trump has done to all three branches of government -- and to our trust in our institutions.

First, Trump has to be sent packing. I shudder to think of what four more years of this chaos and decay would do to the nation. Trump is so unpopular, and has so neglected making any attempt to broaden his base, that the agenda of the eventual Democratic nominee is clear: motivate loyal Democratic constituencies to turn out in large numbers; win back at least some of the Rust Belt voters who chose Barack Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016; and invite independents and anti-Trump Republicans along for the ride.

None of these tasks are mutually exclusive, and none involve rocket science. With just a couple of exceptions, I can see any of the Democrats on stage last Thursday getting the job done. But then would come the hard part.

Perhaps the most straightforward and least complicated undertaking, since it would be entirely within the next president's purview, is rebuilding the executive branch from the corrupted ruin Trump will leave behind.

One of the most underreported stories about the Trump administration is its basic incompetence. Perhaps Trump's biggest con of all was convincing his supporters that he was some sort of business wizard with a genius for management. In truth, the Trump Organization was a mom-and-pop family business that he repeatedly micromanaged to the brink of collapse. He is doing exactly the same with the government of the United States.

The White House itself is less like "The West Wing" than like "Game of Thrones." Courtiers vie for the favor of the Mad King, unable or unwilling to perform normal duties for fear of risking Trump's ire. Usually, the White House is a place where information from outside sources is synthesized and digested so the president can make the best possible decisions. Under Trump, the flow is reversed -- his whims, however ill-informed or contradictory or just plain loopy, are tweeted out and must be made into policy.

Agencies vital to our national security -- including the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- lumber along, month after month, without permanent leadership. "It's easier to make moves when they're acting," Trump has said, but really the situation reflects his own insecurity. By keeping his underlings weak and beholden only to him, he limits their power -- and thus hamstrings the departments they nominally lead.

So the first job of the next president will be to restock the executive branch with the kind of competent, dedicated professionals who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations in the past. This will be a big endeavor, but it's relatively straightforward.

More difficult is figuring out how to address the damage Trump has done to the legislative branch. With the help of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Trump has rendered Congress all but impotent. Even measures with upward of 90% public support, such as universal background checks for gun purchases, cannot even get an up-or-down vote because Senate Republicans are so terrified of Trump's displeasure.

Even if voters hand control of the Senate to Democrats, McConnell will still be able to use the Senate's rules to delay, deflect and disrupt. In that eventuality, would the next president push Senate leaders to get rid of the filibuster? And if the Republicans retain Senate control, which is a very real possibility, do the Democratic candidates have ideas for going over, under, around or through McConnell to make Congress a functioning legislature once again?

Hardest of all will be fixing what Trump has done to the judicial branch. Trump and McConnell have confirmed more than 150 new federal judges, most of them far-right ideologues. Their impact on jurisprudence in the coming decades will be bad; their impact on public perception of the judiciary is already worse.

We need to be able to believe that justice is blind, that our judges are fair and impartial -- including those who serve on the ultimate tribunal, the Supreme Court. Trump's brazen court-packing threatens to shatter that belief, and I don't know if anything but probity and time can restore that faith.

Benjamin Franklin famously said that the Constitutional Convention produced "a republic, if you can keep it." Trump will leave behind a banana republic, and his successor is going to have to fix it.

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)

2ND WRITETHRU: 9th graf, 2nd sentence: "He ignored a court ruling and continued to separate migrant families and jail children in cages and deny them soap or toothbrushes." sted "He ignored the law and court rulings and continued to separate migrant families and jail children in cages and deny them soap or toothpaste." 1ST WRITETHRU: 6th graf, 2nd to last sentence: "that Trump's actions would have justified multiple charges of obstruction of justice" sted "that Trump committed multiple acts of obstruction of justice"

By EUGENE ROBINSON

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats can't have it both ways. Either they're impeaching President Trump or they're not -- and it looks like they're not.

Why Congress is not fulfilling what would seem to be its constitutional duty has nothing to do with the merits of the case against Trump, who adds to the list of his impeachable offenses almost daily. It has everything to do with a political calculation that I hope Democrats do not come to regret.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said this week that his panel is "examining the various malfeasances of the president with the view toward possibly … recommending articles of impeachment to the House." But Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says this is just a "path of investigation" that might lead to a formal impeachment inquiry or, presumably, might not. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Wednesday that the House has not launched an impeachment inquiry, but later clarified that he fully supports the "investigation" whose subject, according to Nadler, is impeachment.

On Thursday, Nadler's committee approved procedural guidelines for its investigation or inquiry or whatever anyone wants to call it. "I salute them for that work," Pelosi said later. But she added that "people are saying it's good to be careful about how we proceed."

Enough with the oh-so-subtle semantic distinctions. Do something or don't -- and be prepared to explain why.

With respect, how much more investigation do we need? Former special counsel Robert Mueller III spent two years compiling what amounts to an impeachment road map. Part Two of his voluminous report clearly establishes, to the satisfaction of more than 1,000 former prosecutors, that Trump's actions would have justified multiple charges of obstruction of justice. If you take the view that impeachment requires the president to have committed a statutory crime, Mueller handed it to Congress on a platter.

But impeachment doesn't even necessitate a finding that the president, beyond a reasonable doubt, violated the law. The founders left it vague, declining to define what the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" means. But from their writings we know they deeply feared that a president might use his expansive powers to act as a tyrant rather than as a servant of the people.

"Abuse of power" is not a federal crime, but it was one of the impeachment articles being prepared against Richard Nixon before he resigned. Trump abuses his power in ways that must have the founders whirring like turbines in their graves.

To cite just a few examples, look at his border policy. He ignored a court ruling and continued to separate migrant families and jail children in cages and deny them soap or toothbrushes. When Congress, which has the power of the purse, declined to fund his ridiculous border wall, he snatched billions of dollars that had been duly appropriated for other programs. According to credible reports, he told underlings to break the law to keep migrants out of the country, if necessary, and promised to pardon them if they got in trouble.

Beyond abuse of power, there is the principle that no president should use the office to corruptly enrich himself. In some cases, there appear to be clear violations of the Emoluments Clause. In others, there's just plain old-fashioned graft. Of all the hotels in Scotland, U.S. military crews can find nowhere to stay except at Trump's overpriced golf resort? Seriously? And Congress thinks this is acceptable?

I believe the founders would also consider impeachable the way Trump lies constantly to the American people. I don't need to give examples; just look at his Twitter feed or listen to the comments he makes on the White House lawn. I know that Trump may believe concepts such as trust and honor are for suckers, but his incessant lying defiles the presidency -- and members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, know it does. But they do nothing about it.

The damage Trump is doing is limited only by his lack of focus. We can only hope that after he is gone things return to normal, though that is not guaranteed. And heaven help us if there is a genuine crisis while he's still in office.

The political calculation Democrats are making is that impeachment, especially if followed by acquittal in the GOP-controlled Senate, might make Trump's reelection more likely. There's no way of knowing, but I doubt it would make much of a difference one way or the other. Trump's going to inflame his base anyway. Democrats had better motivate theirs.

But everyone should realize that history's calculation must be considered as well. Future generations will judge all who decided, for whatever reason, to put politics above duty.

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

(Advance for Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)

WRITETHRU: In 11th graf, last sentence, fixes to now read: "Perhaps someone could draw it for him with a Sharpie."

By EUGENE ROBINSON

WASHINGTON -- "It is impossible to prepare for an apocalypse," Dr. Duane Sands, the health minister of the Bahamas, told reporters Sunday.

Somehow, though, we all had better try.

Those who have witnessed the devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian on Grand Bahama, Great Abaco and Little Abaco islands struggle to describe it. "Some places it's like nothing happened," Mark Green, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told The Washington Post after an aerial tour. "Other places, it's like they were hit by a nuclear bomb."

Dorian, then a Category 5 storm bearing sustained winds of 185 miles per hour and gusts even stronger, stalled over the northern Bahamas and barely moved for nearly three full days. The result was the kind of damage more commonly seen from tornados, except that a tornado touchdown typically lasts just minutes. In the town of Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco, entire neighborhoods were smashed into rubble and then the broken pieces were blown around like confetti. Journalists who have reached those places say the smell of death is everywhere.

The official toll stood at just 45 on Monday, but authorities have understandably prioritized the care and feeding of thousands of bereft survivors over the counting of the dead. It is assumed that the final number, or estimate, will be orders of magnitude higher. Sands, who oversees the grim tally, has used the word "staggering" to describe the loss of life.

An exact number of casualties will likely never be known because Dorian's tsunami-like storm surge carried many victims away. Survivors have told wrenching stories of how they watched helplessly as loved ones were swept out to sea.

Tens of thousands of people who remain in the devastated areas, and who have lost everything, desperately need food, shelter, clothing and medical attention. This slow-motion catastrophe is unfolding barely 100 miles off the coast of Florida. One thing the United States government can do is avoid a repeat of what happened Sunday night, when scores of refugees were forced to disembark from a ferry about to head from Grand Bahama to Fort Lauderdale because they did not have visas to enter the country.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection blamed the ferry company; the ferry's crew reportedly blamed CBP. Whoever was responsible, such cruelty must not happen again. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida have asked President Trump to waive all visa requirements for Bahamians with relatives in the United States.

In other respects, U.S. officials seem to be doing everything they can to help the Bahamas cope with the immediate tragedy. Sadly, however, our government is willfully blind to the bigger picture.

Climate scientists have predicted that human-induced global warming will make hurricanes stronger, more laden with rainfall and, possibly, more likely to stall -- just like Dorian. Rising sea levels, due to climate change, make low-lying coastal communities more vulnerable than in the past. Trump may believe climate change is a hoax, but the next hurricane could potentially do to his Palm Beach estate what Dorian did to Marsh Harbour.

Our government should be moving on two fronts. First, it should join the rest of the world in acknowledging the need to try to limit climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels. It is insane that while the Trump administration sends resources to help the Bahamas, it is simultaneously throwing a legal fit over the decision by California and major car manufacturers to make their vehicles emit less heat-trapping carbon than Trump would prefer. The president refuses to see the contradiction. Perhaps someone could draw it for him with a Sharpie.

For a start, we should immediately resume participation in the landmark Paris accords. Trump won't; perhaps his successor will.

Federal officials also should begin taking seriously the increased risks created by warming that has already taken place and further warming that is inevitable. That means, basically, preparing for the next apocalypse.

Think of the immense loss of life and property that would have been suffered had Dorian parked itself over Miami instead. Then work backward: What preparations and precautions could have mitigated that hypothetical damage? Do we need to change building codes and development patterns? Do we need to create more natural or manmade storm-surge barriers? In 2050, when sea levels are projected to have risen an additional foot and a half, will some coastal areas no longer be safe for habitation?

Let's open our hearts to the suffering people of the Bahamas. But let's also try to make sure that the Bahamas -- and our own coastlines -- have a viable future.

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

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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.
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
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