It is true that these are dark times. Never before have we had a president so dishonest, so reckless, so arrogant, so lacking in integrity, so indifferent (or worse) to the suffering of other people. And all this at a time when the Party he leads is both so morally bankrupt and in so much in control of all the other levels of power in the American government.
But despite all that, I see the picture as not just dark, but mixed.
I’m not going to go so far as to make that Dickensian declaration that these are “the best of times,” as well as the worst. The larger truth, rather, is that we have been in very dark times for quite a while — well over a decade — but too many of us in Liberal America did not recognize the darkness descending upon our nation. Or at least did not respond as though aware of the huge stakes in the battle that was being thrust upon us.
The good news is that Liberal America has now awakened. All over the country, people are becoming aware, activated, and impassioned — rising up in opposition to the destruction that Trump and his Republican allies are seeking to inflict upon the nation.
This is not only the dark moment of the Trump presidency, therefore, but also the moment when the battle –long being waged in a one-sided manner– is at last being joined. The struggle — over what kind of nation ours will be — may at last be coming to a head.
Which means that, despite the dangers of this moment, there is also an opportunity. Despite the reasonable fears that now gnaw upon our hearts, there is also the new hope that we may be able not only to bring Trump down but also to rout the destructive force that has been taking over the Republican Party for the past generation.
It remains important to see this battle in its broader terms. Yes, Trump is uniquely grotesque. But his ascent to the presidency was possible only in a darkening context that had been developing for years.
Trump may be an extraordinarily consistent liar, but the Republican Party has for years been basing its political strategy on deception and falsehood. They lied about the threat from Iraq, they lied about Obamacare, they lied about their concern for the federal deficit, they lied about climate change, they lied about their being concerned about the well-being of the American people (and not just the rich and mighty).
They, and their right-wing media allies, have for years virtually trained a large swath of the American people to believe the patently false and to ignore the evidence before their eyes.
No wonder these millions could see in Trump — whose contact with reality can be reasonably questioned — a plausible champion for their cause.
The politicians who have led the Republican Party may not have the sociopathic qualities that Trump so regularly and so conspicuously shows. But even so, the GOP has been a party without a conscience for years. Only those who place their ambitions ahead of all other values could choose across-the-board obstructionism as a political strategy, deliberately hurting the nation in their own quest for power.
No wonder the Party’s millions of supporters were ready to believe that a malignant narcissist like Trump might be the right man to whom to give the powers of the presidency.
Liberal America has awakened because the ugly destructiveness of Donald Trump is so blatantly appalling. (The wolf without the sheep’s clothing.) But the battle against Trump must be waged in a manner that also goes after the forces that made his rise to power possible.
(Trump’s great accomplishment was just to seize the opportunity that the GOP degradation of the American body politic had created.)
First, the Democrats and Liberal America generally should continually tie Trump and his defects to the Republican Party. As many people as possible should be awakened to the deep connections between this president’s malignant tendencies and what the Party that nominated him has been doing to our politics for years.
Second, every Republican in Congress should be pressured to honor their oath of office and thus to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” against this president’s assault. And any Republican who chooses to protect Trump rather than the Constitution should be hammered relentlessly on such a violation of that oath.
The oath of office — with respect to the clear violations of the emoluments clause, and the reasonably suspected violations regarding aiding a hostile power in sabotaging our presidential election — should be a major theme.
One final point, about the battle for control of the Supreme Court. It is about to be lost, and the current liberal approaches to protesting the confirmation of Gorsuch — focusing on problems with his record (on various issues like torture, religious freedom, corporate power) — have no chance of success. But even worse, they put the focus on the wrong place. (Wrong because they do not join the issue where the public’s attention should be directed.)
Where the focus should be is not about Gorsuch per se, but about the Republican act of theft that his confirmation would ratify.
The theme should be that the confirmation of Trump’s nominee would make the Supreme Court of the United States the stolen goods of the thieving Republican Party. This would discredit the highest court in the land, and that would represent a major injury to our constitutional order.
Had Liberal America awakened sooner, there would have been a march on Washington — protesting the unprecedented obstruction of Obama’s appointing a justice to the Court — as big as that we saw in January protesting the inauguration of Donald Trump as president.
That opportunity has passed, and it is not probable that anything can stop the Republicans from completing their theft of the Court. But the game is not over, and there are good reasons to fully join the issue in the most pertinent, most effective way.
There are two approaches to the Supreme Court issue that should be pushed into the national discourse.
First, there is the approach presented recently on Slate.com. There, Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West have written a brilliant piece showing that every argument that the Republicans have made for not confirming President Obama’s nominee applies fully, and even more strongly, to the case for not confirming President Trump’s nominee. (Their powerful argument leads to the conclusion that the seat should remain empty for the time being.)
A second line, which can be pressed at the same time as the Lithwick-West line, is one articulated in an op/ed piece I wrote back in November. It argues that while the Constitution and American tradition would have Merrick Garland be confirmed, as he should have been, to the empty seat, the minimal demands of justice would call for the naming of a justice who would be “both fair-minded and ideologically unpredictable.” This, I assert, might “help alleviate the corrosive polarization of the Court.”
Such a campaign — vigorously argued, and in conjunction with the ongoing discrediting of the man who nominated Gorsuch — might have a snowball’s chance in hell of compelling the GOP to relinquish their ill-gotten gains. But at the very least, it could imprint on the public mind the idea that a 5-4 Supreme Court represents stolen goods by a party that continually has chosen to advance its own power over the letter and spirit of the Constitution.