I was delighted to discover this morning that President Obama has suggested he may not abide by the tradition of the out-going president maintaining silence regarding his successor.
I had been planning on writing an open letter to President Obama saying, in sum, “Yes, there is that tradition of the former president keeping his mouth shut regarding the new president, and that tradition has some value. But we are in extraordinary times: 1) the dangers posed by the Trump presidency are of an extraordinary nature, 2) the non-Trump part of America needs to make the most of such resources as it has, and 3) you, Mr. President, with your high approval ratings, and with your well-earned high degree of credibility and above-the-fray dignity, are potentially a most important resource. That importance outweighs the cost of breaking with that tradition.”
So it is welcome news that President Obama apparently may agree with that reasoning. And assuming he does, then the question arises: how can President Obama best help to achieve the goal of minimizing the damage the Trump presidency does to the nation (and the world)?
Here’s how I see it.
(These thoughts are in keeping with the overall strategy I proposed previously, “Seeking Peace While Preparing for War.” The jist of that strategy is that Democrats should put the good of the nation first both in trying to achieve good things (to whatever extent that is possible with Trump in the White House and the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress) and trying to block bad things (of which an abundance can be anticipated coming from these Republicans).
We can anticipate a great many issues on which Trump will be heading in the wrong direction. An effective counter-strategy for the Democrats requires the public involvement of figures prominent enough to command media attention. (That’s because much of the battle ahead is for the support of the American public.) President Obama, of course, meets that important criterion.
On a well-selected subset of these issues, an opening move could be for Mr. Obama –with his reasonable and non-confrontational style — to step up and publicly request a meeting with the President to discuss the issue at hand, and his “concerns” that it be dealt with in a way that well serves the good of the nation.
(It is quite uncertain how Trump would deal with that request: refusing it would have political costs for him, but granting it would also carry risks. The more Trump is overwhelmed by having to deal with the challenges of the presidency, for which his ignorance and inexperience so ill-equip him, the more willing he might be to talk with someone who knows that territory well.)
If Obama is successful both at getting that meeting and at getting his concerns satisfactorily met, all well and good. Better things for America will be the result.
If Obama’s efforts fail to deflect Trump from the wrong direction, then it becomes time for the Democrats’ “bad cop” to step forward into the media spotlight and wage political battle.
At present, the best choice for bad cop seems to be Elizabeth Warren.
(Bernie Sanders is also a potentially valuable player here. No one else on the Democratic roster would likely command the desired media attention. People like Senator Schumer certainly have a role to play, but they do not have the draw that’s needed to influence sufficiently the media narrative.)
Elizabeth Warren has the necessary star power. Part of that is because she has shown herself capable of besting Trump in a sparring match. And part of it also — I predict — will be because she will likely become before long the focus of a popular “Elizabeth Warren for President” movement. (This is one thing that differentiates her from Bernie Sanders, who will be nearly 80 when the winner of the next presidential election is inaugurated, and has therefore likely “aged out” of consideration.)
If that prediction is correct, her “bad-cop” role could be an ideal way for her to position herself as the principal voice of the anti-Trump resistance, and to get the media to focus on the confrontation as preliminary skirmishes in a gathering battle for 2020, when Trump (presumably) will seek re-election.
It should be said that regardless of whoever is the main voice of the anti-Trump resistance should be greatly supported by a whole choir of other voices– elected officials, public intellectuals and pundits, and the throngs of citizens who take to the streets at strategically chosen moments bearing strategically chosen messages.