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Week In Politics: Trump Begins 'Thank You' Tour In Indiana

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For more on this and the rest of the week in politics, we turn to David Brooks of The New York Times.

Welcome back, David.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

CORNISH: And sitting in for E.J. Dionne is Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent for Slate.

Welcome to the program.

JAMELLE BOUIE: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So this week started with scrutiny of Donald Trump's business interest and infighting over his transition team. It ends with this victory lap of sorts in Indiana after reaching that agreement with the Carrier air conditioning company. I want to draw attention to something Trump said when he visited the plant yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: We're going to have a lot of phone calls made to companies when they say they're thinking about leaving this country because they're not leaving this country. They're not going to leave this country. And the workers are going to keep their jobs. And they can leave from state to state. And they can negotiate good deals with the different states and all of that. But leaving the country is going to be very, very difficult.

CORNISH: David, I'm going to start with you because it used to be that Republicans disliked the idea of a president picking winners and losers.

BROOKS: I'm still there (laughter). I think this is a terrible deal. It's just a terrible deal. The government is supposed to provide a level playing field where people can compete fairly. It's not supposed to cut deals with one company or another to do so. First of all, it's going to invite corruption. If you're cutting deals with one company or another, eventually, there's going to be a quid pro quo. There's going to be a bribe. There's going to be something. And so the corruption will come back to haunt the Trump administration. But mostly, it'll come back to haunt the American economy, as companies decide they can make money by rent-seeking, by getting money from government rather than earning it the old-fashioned way.

CORNISH: Jamelle, Bernie Sanders has been a big opponent of this as well, in an op-ed, saying that Trump has endangered the jobs of workers. What do you think?

BOUIE: I think that's actually the right take. If you look at the details of the Carrier deal in particular, the United States government has spent a large sum of money - or will spend a large sum of money to, essentially, delay the outsourcing of jobs to Mexico. I think there'll still be a net job loss after all of this, Carrier still moving more than 1,000 jobs abroad. So it does very much look like the kind of behavior you see among state governments, where large companies, essentially, extract rents of various sorts - subsidies, tax credits - and end up moving operations elsewhere.

And I think - when you're thinking about that, you know, when Trump - when the president-elect says that, you know, companies can move between states, but they shouldn't go abroad, I think people are forgetting the extent to which outsourcing in America - it's very much outsourcing to other states. And it's outsourcing to states with lower labor standards, fewer labor standards, lower, cheaper - cheaper sort of living standards and taking advantage of those cost savings to lower wages and so on and so forth. And so you're not really avoiding the problems that Trump is diagnosing. You're kind of just talking around them.

CORNISH: You know, this week the president-elect was also back on his favorite social media site, Twitter. He made allegations without evidence that there had been voter fraud in the election. He also tweeted that flag-burning protesters must face consequences, perhaps even lose citizenship or be jailed. Of course, burning the flag is a protest protected by the First Amendment. My question is how should the media handle these pronouncements? Are they policy? Are they diversions? Are they gospel? Jamelle.

BOUIE: I tend to think that the immediate response should be fact-checking and correcting. And so when the president-elect says that if not for 3 million illegal votes, he would have won the popular vote, it is the responsibility of journalists to say that this is false and, when reporting on this statement, to say that the president-elect made a false statement. There is no evidence for this.

CORNISH: But you can say it all day. Is it making a difference?

BOUIE: I'm not sure that we can guarantee that anything we do is making a difference. I think it's very clear from this past election that many voters exist in a media ecosystem where facts don't really get through. But I don't think that lessens our obligation to point out what is true and what is false.

CORNISH: David Brooks, how does the media handle a president prone to sharing conspiracy theories with a flexible relationship with the truth?

BROOKS: We can stop playing the fools. I think he's just playing us. I mean, he says something, and then we go crazy about it. And then - so he comes out. He's looking like he's against flag burning. Well, that's good for him. He's against voter fraud. That's good for him. And so the more we go into the hysteria about his tweets, the more it seems to benefit him. And so I'm for a shrug, like, oh, that was untrue. Let's focus on the policy. I do think...

CORNISH: So still cover it, but maybe not to the extent some people do?

BROOKS: Shrug instead of scream.

CORNISH: (Laughter) Scream into the void.

BROOKS: (Laughter).

CORNISH: Finally, I wanted to dig into your writing this week because, David, you write about other group No Labels and this kind of effort to build up a political movement from the ideological center. Got to be honest with you, most dynamic movements of 2016...

BROOKS: (Laughter).

CORNISH: ...Have been populist-left, populist-right. And the candidates you mentioned, (laughter) the people you mentioned in the center are not exactly lighting anyone's fire.

BROOKS: What about me? I'm not lighting fires (laughter)?

CORNISH: Well, I'll give you a minute. But what makes you think this is possible?

BROOKS: Well, I just think, realistically, there's a lot of room outside the Trump populist right and the Bernie-Sanders-Elizabeth-Warren populist left. There are a lot of us who believe in open trade, open borders, a dynamic forward-looking economy, not a nostalgic economy, but do want to provide a significant level of social service or sort of economic Milton Friedman foreign policy, Ronald Reagan domestic policy, Franklin Roosevelt. And there's a lot of room in the center...

CORNISH: That's a lot of nostalgia, David Brooks.

BROOKS: (Laughter) Good - fair point.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

BROOKS: But I do think creating an open free-trade economy but with strong social support is the way to go. And it's not where either of the two parties are headed.

CORNISH: Jamelle, some nostalgia from you, as well - you look at the Democrats in-family debate about the direction of the party. And you looked back to Jesse Jackson's presidential run. What about his approach do you see is worth revisiting?

BOUIE: Well, what's so novel and unique about Jesse Jackson's approach is it took what we would identify as identity politics and centered it very much in a broad, populist and class-based appeal to many different kinds of groups. And so Jesse Jackson spoke to white farmers. He spoke to Midwestern industrial workers. He also spoke to African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, to LGBT Americans. And he did so essentially saying that your struggles - all of your struggles - are part and parcel of each other's. And if you want to make any advancement on one, you have to make advancement on the other. And I think that is both a rhetorical approach and an approach that implies a kind of politics that I think Democrats might be looking for.

I will add to that that I think (laughter) - I think the party David might be looking for is the Democratic Party here. I think the Democratic Party...

CORNISH: (Laughter) Some conversion...

BOUIE: (Laughter).

CORNISH: ...Going on right here. Let's hear it.

BOUIE: I think the Democratic Party of Barack Obama is along the lines that you're looking for. And there are many liberals and Democrats who think Democrats should be moving away from that. But as far as the status quo goes, I think the center you're looking for - it exists.

CORNISH: David, let's light up Twitter. What's your response?

BROOKS: You know, I'm of course nostalgic for Barack Obama (laughter) all of a sudden. I'd be more nostalgic for the current...

CORNISH: (Laughter) And there it goes.

(LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: I'd be more nostalgic for the Clinton administration. I do think where the center has failed was in not really focusing on, how do you help the 52-year-old working-class person? And there was a lot of folks on fiscal austerity and things like that. There was not a lot of focus on structural reform. And that's where those of us who are more center-left, center-right have to focus a lot more attention.

CORNISH: And I'm going to leave it there because I know that is a discussion that will be ongoing the next couple of months and possibly years. David Brooks of The New York Times, thank you so much.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CORNISH: And Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent for Slate, thank you.

BOUIE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.