David Brooks and Mark Shields with Jeff Greenfield

When commentators of the caliber of syndicated columnist Mark Shields and The New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks get together to discuss today’s major issues, you know you’re in for an illuminating and stimulating evening. The PBS “NewsHour” sparring partners will present their views, analyze the day’s news and maybe even make a prediction or two on the outcomes of election 2016. Moderated by Jeff Greenfield.

The Rules for Beating Donald Trump

Don’t argue with 4.1 percent growth.

.. don’t bet on bad news.

Why? Because it creates a toxic perception that Trump’s critics would rather see things go wrong, for the sake of their own vindication, than right, for the common good. That, in turn, reinforces the view that Trump’s critics are the sort of people whose jobs and bank accounts are sufficiently safe and padded that they can afford lousy economic numbers.

.. If working-class resentment was a factor in handing the White House to Trump, pooh-poohing of good economic news only feeds it.

While they’re at it, they might try to observe Rule No. 2: Stop predicting imminent disaster. The story of the Trump presidency so far isn’t catastrophe. It’s corrosion — of our political institutions, civic morals, global relationships and democratic values.

.. Democrats can make a successful run against the corrosion, just as George W. Bushdid in a prosperous age with his promise to restore “honor and dignity” to the White House after the scandals of the Clinton years.

.. Third rule: Stop obsessing about 2016.

.. The smart play is to defend the integrity of Mueller’s investigation and invest as little political capital as possible in predicting the result. If Mueller discovers a crime, that’s a gift to the president’s opponents. If he discovers nothing, it shouldn’t become a humiliating liability.

.. Tweets are the means by which the president wrests control of the political narrative from the news media (and even his own administration), whether by inspiring his followers, goading his opponents, changing the subject, or merely causing a ruckus.

.. Fifth: Beware the poisoned chalice. We keep hearing that the 2018 midterms are the most important in all of history, or close to it. Why?

Democrats took control of the Senate in the 1986 midterms but George H.W. Bush easily defeated Mike Dukakis two years later. Republicans took Congress in 1994, only to become Bill Clinton’s ideal foil. Republicans took the House again in 2010 amid a wave of discontent with Barack Obama, and you know what happened. Get my drift?

Finally: People want leaders. Not ideologues. Not people whose life experiences have been so narrow that they’ve been able to maintain the purity of their youthful ideals.

.. governors. John Hickenlooper. Deval Patrick. Maggie Hassan. Andrew Cuomo. Want to defeat Trump? Look thataway.

The Real Russia Scandal

Mike Flynn. In 2016, the retired general published a book that made clear where he stood when it came to Russia.

“Although I believe America and Russia could find mutual ground fighting Radical Islamists,” he and co-author Michael Ledeen wrote, “there is no reason to believe Putin would welcome cooperation with us; quite the contrary, in fact.”

Lest there be any doubt as to where the future national security adviser stood, Flynn went on to stress that Vladimir Putin “has done a lot for the Khamenei regime”; that Russia and Iran were “the two most active and powerful members of the enemy alliance”; and that the Russian president’s deep intention was to “pursue the war against us.”

All this was true. Yet by the end of the year, Flynn would be courting Russia’s ambassador to Washington and hinting at swift relief from sanctions. What gave?

What gave, it seems, was some combination of financial motives — at least $65,000 in payments by Russian-linked companies — and political ones — a new master in the person of Donald Trump, who took precisely the same gauzy view of Russia that Flynn had rejected in his book.

.. the president’s craven apologists insist he’s right to try to find common ground with Russia. These are the same people who until recently were in full throat against Barack Obama for his overtures to Putin.

.. Yet the alleged naïveté never quits: Just this week, he asked for Putin’s help on North Korea.

The better explanations are:

  1. the president is infatuated with authoritarians, at least those who flatter him;
  2. he’s neurotically neuralgic when it comes to the subject of his election;
  3. he’s ideologically sympathetic to Putinism, with its combination of economic corporatism, foreign-policy cynicism, and violent hostility to critics;
  4. he’s stupid; or
  5. he’s vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

.. Each explanation is compatible with all the others. For my part, I choose all of the above — the first four points being demonstrable while the last is logical.

.. There’s no need to obsess about electoral collusion when the real issue is moral capitulation.

We Don’t Need No Education

Republicans, who were already much less positive than Democrats about higher education, have turned very negative on the role of colleges in America. True to form, this worries some liberal commentators, who are calling for outreach – universities should examine their implicit biases, make an effort to hire more conservative faculty, etc..

.. After all, among college professors 59 percent identify as Democrats versus only 13 percent as Republicans; senior faculty were even more liberal, with very few identifying themselves as conservatives.

.. Oh, wait – that wasn’t a survey of college professors; it was a 2004 survey of the military, and the 59-13 comparison was of Republicans versus Democrats.

.. The point is that your political orientation isn’t something handed to you, like your race or ethnicity. It’s a choice, reflecting your values – and those same values are likely to influence your choice of profession

.. But hasn’t the anti-conservative lean of academics gotten more pronounced over time? Yes – but surely that has a lot to do with the changing nature of what it means to be a conservative. When denial of climate change, and for that matter the theory of evolution, become tribal markers, you shouldn’t be surprised to find academics, very much including those in the hard sciences, decline to be identified as members of the tribe.

.. But there used to be at least some pretense of taking facts and hard thinking seriously. Now anyone pointing out awkward facts – immigrants haven’t brought a reign of terror, coal jobs can’t be brought back, Trump lost the popular vote – is the enemy. In fact, I’d argue that anti-intellectualism was, in its own way, as big a factor in the election as racism.

.. America basically invented the modern, educated society, leading the way on universal K-12 education, building the world’s finest and most comprehensive higher education system; this in turn was an important factor in how we became leader of the free world. Now a powerful political movement basically wants to make America ignorant again.

U.S. Charges Contractor With Leaking NSA Document on Russian Hacking

the Intercept, which on Monday afternoon posted online a document that it said was produced by the National Security Agency and which concluded Russian spies hacked computers of a U.S. company “to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions.”

.. In an article published Monday, the Intercept said it had received the NSA report anonymously and had authenticated its contents. It said the NSA report details Russian efforts to hack the computers of a U.S. company and steal information about election-related software and hardware, data that was then likely used to launch cyberattacks against local U.S. governments.  U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials have said that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election to help the prospects of Donald Trump, then the Republican nominee.

How Alleged Russian Hacker Teamed Up With Florida GOP Operative

Ten days later, Mr. Nevins received 2.5 gigabytes of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee documents, some of which he posted on a blog called HelloFLA.com that he ran using a pseudonym.

Soon after, the hacker sent a link to the blog article to Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, along with Mr. Nevins’ analysis of the hacked data.

 .. Later, going through what the hacker sent as someone who “actually knows what some of these documents mean,” the GOP consultant said he “realized it was a lot more than even Guccifer knew that he had.”The episode shows how the hacker’s activities extended to exposing Democrats’ get-out-the vote strategies in swing states and informing a Trump ally of hacked data during the national campaign.

.. He said he didn’t use any in his consulting business, which includes running grass-roots-style campaigns for corporations and wealthy landowners seeking to influence local politics.

.. More impressed after studying the voter-turnout models, Mr. Nevins told the hacker, “Basically if this was a war, this is the map to where all the troops are deployed.”At another point, he told the hacker, “This is probably worth millions of dollars.”

.. Democrats, Mr. Nevins wrote, “spent millions probably to figure out who these people are that are conducive to their message and now it’s exposed for the other side.”

..He isn’t convinced the Russians were behind it, Mr. Nevins said, but even if they were, it doesn’t matter to him because the agenda of the hackers seemed to match his own.“If your interests align,” he said, “never shut any doors in politics.”