Democrats have to thread the needle by both acknowledging past failures and unifying to preserve and protect American democracy from Trumpism.
A debate has been unfolding in the Resistance. It’s a debate we’ve avoided, but one we’ve needed for a while, because wave elections, like the one we need to put this country back on course, won’t happen on their own. The first argument is informed by an analysis of attitudes toward Democratic policies & election wins since Trump was inaugurated. The second is fueled by frustration over policy losses & an assessment of how the Democrats might better win in that arena – or at least go down swinging.
The first argument goes like this: what we say on social media & other public forums must be disciplined, focused & based around sound, strategic messaging. In other words, the Resistance needs to be unified in its support of Democrats & Democratic policy. We need to assure voters that more of us trust Democrats to do the right things than Republicans. The underlying theme is, if we don’t make clear that we trust Democrats to represent the people on policy, how can we convince non-Democrats to vote with us in November?
The second argument: Democrats have to fight on policy, or there won’t be a country left to save. On the day Justice Kennedy announced his retirement from the bench, Michelangelo Signorili stated the obvious: we should have been out in the streets protesting when McConnell refused to give Merrick Garland a hearing in the Senate. The failure of President Obama & the Senate Democrats to rally the people to confront this obstructionism in 2016 and the subsequent installation of arch-ideologue, Neil Gorsuch, to the Supreme Court, was a missed opportunity – one that appears on the verge of upsetting the balance of the court, which increasingly favors dark money corruption over political accountability and discrimination over equality. Chuck Schumer’s plea to Trump on the Senate floor, not to seat a Supreme Court Justice in an election year (McConnell’s own argument for not granting Merrick Garland a Senate hearing) felt a little to measured, given what is at stake.
Both sides of the argument have the same overall point to make. We’re putting our trust in Democrats to reclaim our nation’s spirit of inclusion, diversity and compassion. We’re counting on them to make policy decisions that will protect women, LGBTQ, non-whites and religious minorities from harmful, discriminatory & invasive policies by the Party of Trump (PoT), which is clearly moving toward theocratic & authoritarian rule. The disagreement comes down what our focus should be right now.
The Democrats can’t win in 2018 or 2020 without the Resistance. The Kremlin bots, the Keks, 4Channers, Trump and all his allies have all aligned to spread pro-Putin propaganda. As the GOP transitions to the Party of Trump (PoT), the old guard has chosen retirement over drawing battle lines against their party’s usurper. The only Republicans in Congress willing to push back on Trump have, in fact, capitulated on all or most of his policy agenda, while making the relatively weak argument that he’s not a good person and that he might be a little more sympathetic to Putin than they are comfortable with.
This leaves Democrats as our sole option. In my view, it’s what both sides of the argument won’t say that will hurt us in the end: the Democrats’ unforced errors at least partially allowed this to happen. No one wants to say it out loud, but we’re all angry that Obama didn’t sound the alarm about the Kremlin’s effort to install Trump in the White House. No one will admit, outside of living rooms and online chat rooms, that we blame Democrats’ short-sightedness for an all-but certain shift in the Supreme Court toward enabling discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation & rollbacks to voter protections. In other words, none of us, no matter which side of the argument we find ourselves on, are particularly sanguine about the Democrats formulating a strategy to prevent 2016 from happening again.
So the first argument tries to maintain discipline among party outsiders, while the second argument holds the Democrats to account for their failures. In point of fact, we need to hear both sides of this argument. In 1996, I was an independent. I watched the Republican Convention, where former General Colin Powell addressed the issue of a burgeoning “big tent” GOP. “You all know that I believe in a woman’s right to choose and I strongly support affirmative action. And, I was invited here by my party to share my views with you because we are a big enough party — and big enough people — to disagree on individual issues and still work together for our common goal: restoring the American dream.”
The GOP, leading up to that time, had necessarily become a party of moderates. They retook the House of Representatives in a 1994 wave election that broke a 40-year Democratic hold as the majority party. That “big tent” party of moderates, with a rich diversity of viewpoints that represented a broad swath of the American populace, has devolved into a party of radicals and malcontents, whose ideological focus can now be summarized on a postage stamp: trigger the libs.
The question is, which party is big enough to welcome that richness of diversity? Clearly not the Republicans. There is reason to fear that if we’re fighting among ourselves, we can’t possibly defend our country from those forces hostile to democracy. This is, of course, true, but it misses a vital point: democracy is the peaceful resolution of conflicting ideas. Likewise, it is necessary to critique our Democratic leadership when we feel they’re not responding to us, the people who are working so hard to return them to a majority in the Legislative & Executive branches. It is also essential when we demand more from Democrats in Congress, we are mindful that politics is the art is what is possible; that we must concede the political reality that Democrats are in the minority; that we should focus on those Republicans, most likely to face consequences in November for ignoring their liberal constituents, as opposed to directing our ire at Democrats who risk the same consequences for ignoring the conservatives in their State or District.
We need this debate. To paraphrase Colin Powell, we’re a big enough party and a big enough people to disagree on a plethora of issues and still work together for our common goals: to extend the blessings of liberty and justice to all Americans, irrespective of sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion; to preserve liberal democracy, the world over; and to rejoin the rest of the civilized world in their fight against climate change. Doubtless, there are other issues we agree that are worth fighting for and we must make them part of our discourse.
In the final analysis, we do need a unified, strategic message that will convince non-Democrats to vote with us in November. We are the party of inclusion and we have room for you. We want your thoughts & ideas. We want you to be part of our common goal: to preserve and restore America’s commitment to liberty and justice for all.
Disagreement is not infighting. Rather, it is exactly what democracy looks like.