The ongoing damage to what’s best about our nation, over the past generation, has not just been the responsibility of the right, which has been hijacked by a destructive force (a force that has now put a previously unthinkable person into the Oval Office). This dangerous reign of brokenness has also been enabled by the failure of Liberal America to mount an adequately intense and robust defense.
For more than a decade, I’ve been trying to sound the alarm to Liberal America: That our side – despite our being engaged in a political war for the soul of America, with the highest possible stakes — is continually failing to fight the political battle with the vigor and boldness required by this continuing national crisis.
I don’t think I’ve had much success, over all these years, with sounding that alarm.
But now, it seems that these times have presented us with evidence that makes the truth — about this weakness in Liberal America and its political arm, the Democratic Party – absolutely inescapable.
Here is the case for that, presented in four steps: 1) the huge stakes in this political war; 2) a pivotal battleground on which the outcome of the war will be decided; 3) how our side has lost ground on that battlefield, when we should be gaining; and 4) which proves that the fight from our side lacks the strength required.
1) There has been no war since World War II more important to America for us to win than the political war whose present form is the conflict between this lawless President Trump and his Republican accomplices, on the one side, and the pro-Constitution forces (Mueller, the Democratic Party, the best of the American press) on the other.
In what kind of America, and what kind of world will our children and grandchildren live? What kind of lives will they live? The importance of our wars can be measured by their possible impact on the answers to those questions.
By that measure, World War II still looks big. But whether or not the wars in Korea, in Vietnam, in the two Iraq wars, or in Afghanistan were worth fighting, it is hard to see how the stakes for us Americans — in such terms — come anywhere close to those in the current political war, in which we are called to defend
- the Constitution,
- the rule of law,
- democratic principles of justice,
- a constructive approach to political policy,
- American political norms,
- just plain human decency, as well as
- the integrity and stability of the systems on which civilization and life on earth depend.
I’m not going to elaborate this point further here. This piece is addressed to those who already recognize how vital it is that this political war be fought and won.
(I may soon flesh out the nature and stakes of this battle in a series of op/eds — titled “The Soul of America” — for the newspapers in my very red congressional District [VA-06]).
2) In this political war, the pivotal battleground is the “hearts and minds” of the American people—i.e. public opinion.
Consider the role of “public opinion” in the pivotal loci where this war is being fought:
- Will Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation succeed in bringing Trump down?
There can be little doubt that at this point that this investigation is well on its way to showing the Trump gang to be virtually a criminal enterprise. The corruption of this presidency, and its likely betrayals of the nation, are coming into increasingly clear focus.
But will Mueller be able to complete his work? Everyone knows that Trump wants desperately to stop (or disable) Mueller. If Trump felt confident he could get away with a Saturday Night Massacre, surely he’d do it.
The political calculations depend on public opinion: the more support for Trump, the more people believe his “witch hunt” lies, the more Trump will be emboldened to strike. Contrariwise, the more widespread in the public is the awareness of how vitally important the Mueller investigation is – even to the future of the Republic, and thus of our children and grandchildren – the more Trump will be restrained.
- Will the Congress fulfill its constitutional responsibilities to protect and defend the Constitution, and thus to hold this lawless President to account?
We now know that the answer to this question rests squarely on the results of the upcoming mid-term elections. The Republicans in Congress have clearly chosen to protect the President – even to amplify his justice-obstructing lies – rather than protect the Constitution and the rule of law. A sweeping Democratic victory in November is an essential part of winning this war.
And, of course, who wins the election is entirely a function of public opinion.
- If Trump is impeached by the House, as it almost surely would eventually be in the next Congress, if the Democrats gain control of that chamber, will the Senate vote to remove this most impeachable of presidents from office?
No matter how successful the Democrats are in the 2018 elections, they will not have anything like the 2/3 majority in the Senate needed to convict and remove a president. The only way impeachment could lead to conviction rather than acquittal is if about one-third of the Republicans in the Senate vote against Trump.
Although the Senate Republicans have not been so craven as their brethren in the House, neither have they displayed any profiles in courage: they, too, have been afraid of crossing the Republican base, which has continued to lend Trump their overwhelming support.
Therefore, the only way Trump can be removed from office before the end of this term is if public opinion is so powerfully anti-Trump that the Senate Republicans fear the consequences of saving Trump more than the consequences of their turning against him.
Rudy Giuliani has spewed a lot of nonsense, but one thing that he’s lately said that’s true: “Our jury…is the American people.”
- Will this Republican Party endure in its present morally bankrupt form – so indifferent to basic American political values, so consistently trafficking in lies, so willing to betray the nation for the sake of its own power, so beholden to the plutocracy, so uncaring about building a better America?
Once again, it all depends on public opinion. How many Americans – conservatives as well as liberals – will see this Republican Party for what it is, and compel that Party either to transform itself into a decent, genuinely “conservative” party or to be driven into oblivion?
3) This battle for public opinion has lately been moving in exactly the wrong direction.
Think of it. During the past couple of months – even as the picture of Trump-world as a criminal enterprise, and a betrayal of the nation has been coming into ever sharper focus, and even as the Republicans in Congress have entirely openly behaved disgracefully and perhaps even criminally – millions of our fellow citizens who, in March, saw enough to disapprove of Trump, to reject the Republican Party, and to support the Mueller investigation have moved to the other side on all those matters.
- The support for the continuation of Mueller’s investigation has dropped by 6-10 percent.
- The margin by which Americans tell pollsters they want the Democrats, not the Republicans, to control Congress has narrowed considerably.
- The futures markets assessment of the likelihood of the Democrats gaining a majority in the Congress has dropped by 10% from a recent high, and by 6% from a longer-term margin. And likewise the market’s assessment of the probability of the Democrats gaining a majority in the Senate has declined by roughly 10%.
- And, as mentioned here earlier, the percentage of Americans expressing “approval” of Trump as President has climbed 5-6% in that same period.
What are we to make of this adverse development in the crucial battle for American public opinion—even during a time when, for many of us, the picture of Trumpian criminality is getting increasingly fleshed out?
What can we conclude but that
4) The messaging campaign from our side – which must be regarded as a principle means for fighting this political war — has been too weak in reaching the public with what the people need to hear.
There are a lot of good things happening on (what I’m calling) the “pro-Constitution” side, many signs of activism beyond what we’ve seen before.
But surely there’s a sign of a serious messaging weakness when 59% of Americans – which necessarily includes many who do not like Trump – believe falsely that the Mueller investigation has failed to uncover any crimes?
Was it really somehow impossible for the pro-Constitution side to communicate the reality to a good chunk of that 59% majority, i.e. that Mueller has bagged a good handful guilty pleas – several of them from major Trump figures– plus another bunch of indictments?
And can we not assume that any messaging campaign that leaves 59% believing falsely that no crimes have been uncovered will not also have failed to convey a whole lot else that people should know?
Hence, this 6-10% migration of public opinion in the wrong direction on the issues over which this political war is being fought.
Why this failure? And what to do about it?
Those questions will be addressed in pieces to come.