Are the Democrats About to Blow This?

Being only the Anti-Trump party plays right into the adversary's hands.

President Donald Trump’s approval rating is nearly back to its March low, and some 48 percent of Americans would like to see him impeached. The White House is mired in perpetual upheaval, from petty sniping among jealous staffers to the clumsy and probably impeachable termination of FBI Director James Comey last week. And on Monday, Trump blithely revealed classified intelligence to the Russians inside the Oval Office — bad enough on the merits, but a double-whammy in that mishandling sensitive material was one of Trump’s biggest criticisms of Hillary Clinton. Even Sen. Mitch McConnell blurted out his dissatisfaction with the nonstop hoopla. (“I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda,” the Senate Majority Leader said.)

It’s bad for the country, and it would be better for everyone if we weren’t in this mess. But for an opposition party hungry to regain power and put a stop to all the nonsense, you could hardly ask for a more auspicious alignment of the political cosmos. Yet the Democrats are failing to capitalize on it by advancing an agenda of their own.

Yes, Trump is unpopular — but the Democratic Party is even more unpopular, with only 36 percent of respondents holding a favorable opinion. Internally, there’s been very little reckoning with the fallout from 2016, which left the party clustered on the coasts, with Republicans dominant everywhere else. Granted, passionate resistance to Trump’s corrupt, plutocratic agenda has galvanized liberals — but it has also papered over intraparty differences that must be worked out sooner or later.

Preferably sooner.

The Sanders-Clinton battle ended in a ceasefire, not a treaty, and the result is that no one really knows what the Democratic Party of 2017 stands for. A more economically equal country? Truly universal health care? Restorative racial justice? War in Syria?

A blizzard of comprehensive white papers no one reads is not the solution, but “Trump, amirite?” isn’t going to cut it, either. Trump won by repeating simplistic phrases that, substantively, meant very little — and he’s already abandoned or failed to act on pretty much all of them — but he spoke them in just the right register to connect with millions of disaffected people. It would behoove the Democrats to huddle together, come up with three or four key areas of agreement, and repeat them ad infinitum.

Let the pollsters and focus groups tailor specific phrases as needed, but otherwise, they should keep hammering the point home — and not just because that’s the way to putting a gavel back in Nancy Pelosi’s hand, but because progressive ideas are popular, and they make sense. This could include Medicare for all, criminal-justice reform, and reinvestment in America, be it tax reform or clean energy. All of those could come together under one word: fairness.

Historically, opposition parties tend to do well in midterm years, so no matter what happens, the Democrats can expect to pick up a few seats in 2018. But the position we’re in right now is graver than the standard ebb and flow between elections. The Republicans currently control 32 state governments outright — which is to say, they hold the governorship and both houses of the state legislature — with partial control of five more. Add them up and you get 37, which is one shy of a magic number. It takes 38 states to ratify a constitutional amendment, and in the case of the modern GOP, that could mean racist voter-suppression laws to disenfranchise people nationwide, a vastly expanded surveillance state, or restrictions on the judiciary to strengthen the executive branch.

Then we’re really hip-deep in shit. Meanwhile, impeaching Trump is still on the table, but party loyalty is strong and the Democrats should ditch the fantasy of emergency X or embarrassment Y causing Republicans to dump him en masse. Since he first rode down an escalator in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination, he’s benefited from such consistent wishful thinking. Dozens of crises of his own making have come and gone, and he’s still the president, mashing the chessboard with an open palm while liberals quail that a captured bishop fell on the floor and that is simply not the way the game is played.

No knockout blow is coming. (Well, it might be. But it would be foolish to bank on it.)

Regardless, there’s more to resistance than saying no. The Democrats must work hard to come up with a credible alternative that energizes voters into saying yes.

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