II. The Idea that the Democrats Should Oppose Trump on Everything, Regardless
In the weeks since the election, one major threat of response from liberal quarters has been a call to battle on what might be called absolutist terms. Democrats, it has been proclaimed by various liberal commentators and groups, should oppose — and try to block — EVERYTHING Trump proposes. They should oppose — and try to block — ALL of Trump’s nominees.
I expect everyone reading this has seen articles and received emails calling for this kind of COMPLETE opposition.
I think that approach is a mistake. And, let me make clear at the outset, the issue is not whether to try to defeat Trump, but only of how to do so. (And this is all premised on the notion that there is no plausible way that Trump can be prevented now from assuming the presidency.)
I should acknowledge that, operationally, that strategy of “OPPOSE EVERYTHING” might not look all that different from the strategy I’ve proposed– a strategy in which the guiding principle is WHATEVER IS BEST FOR THE NATION. That means work with Trump, where possible, to accomplish what’s good for America, while opposing him wherever he would damage the nation.)
The two strategies differ only if/when Trump tries to do something that’s good for the nation. And to the extent that such occasions are rare (or non-existent), the two strategies converge.
But regardless of how frequent or rare the opportunities are, there is great value in declaring publicly (as the leading Democrats like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Chuck Schumer have done) their willingness to work with Trump on those things that serve the good of the country.
The importance of that declaration — and that policy — rests on their being two goals in the fight against Trump. One is to block him, as much as the Democrats’ limited power makes possible, from using the power of the presidency to damage the nation. The other is to weaken Trump in the realm of public opinion.
Public opinion is essential in this battle, for even though a president is legally invested by the Constitution with certain powers for however long he occupies the office, the actual power he wields is greatly affected by how much or how little the public is behind him.
So besides the immediate goal of thwarting Trump (and the GOP) in their destructive agenda, there is the longer-term goal of persuading as many as possible of those Americans who supported Trump to withdraw that support.
If the OPPOSE EVERYTHING strategy is employed, however gratifying it may be in expressing one’s hostility and disgust for this atrocious president, the Trump supporters will simply dismiss that opposition as pure partisanship. They will see that attack on their man as an attack on themselves, and the likely effect will be for them to rally round their leader.
And for those in the middle, also, it will be a squandered opportunity to influence how they see Trump. No one looks at a stopped clock to find out what time it is. So why should anyone look to the Democrats to see what’s right to support or right to oppose, if they like a stopped clock invariably say the same thing.
I’ve heard it argued that across-the-board obstructionism has proved to be a successful strategy for the Republicans, so therefore the Democrats should give it a try.
There’s a big problem with that reasoning. The GOP succeeded with its obstructionism largely because the Democrats refrained from making the huge and continuous stink about it that such unprecedented conduct warranted. It was clearly a betrayal of the nation, and it should have been kept front and center from the bully pulpit with a supporting chorus of all the rest of the Democratic voices.
That never happened. Relatively mild objections amounted to overall acquiescence.
Who thinks that the Republicans would acquiesce similarly? This is a Party that makes makes mountains out of molehills (Hillary’s emails, etc.), makes scandals out of mere fictions (Benghazi, etc.).
What worked for the Republicans against Democrats loath to wage battle will not work for Democrats against Republicans who have created a political culture based on making a fight over everything.
Better all around to fight what should be fought, but be visibly willing to support what should be supported.