Donald Trump’s becoming President has surely transformed Liberal America (and its political arm, the Democratic Party). The sight of so much power being wielded in such grotesque and destructive ways has awakened people to the extraordinarily high stakes in the battle ongoing in the American political arena.
That awakening has been empowering. The rhetoric from the Democrats has moved toward capturing the nature of this political battle, in which a dark and destructive force has been gaining power for years. Public opinion has shifted somewhat from red toward blue.
All that gives promise that the tide of battle is at last turning, and that the side that stands for “the Good” — for honesty, for justice, for the rule of law, for the alliance of free nations against tyranny, for bringing Americans together, for acting constructively to make America better, etc. etc. — might at last prevail.
While all that is hopeful, there remains cause for concern: have the necessary lessons been learned?
I would think that it would be perfectly obvious that if one party in a two-party nation became progressively more disgraceful and destructive, while at the same time becoming ever more powerful through democratic elections, there must have been something seriously wrong with the other party.
But I don’t see any sign that this obvious conclusion has been seriously considered in Liberal America’s Democratic circles.
As 2019 begins, we now have an opportunity to win a battle that we’ve been losing for so long, and so badly, that — by the end of 2016 — we’d reached a point where the increasingly destructive and unhinged Republican Party controlled all three branches of the federal government and held most of the power at the state level as well.
This Republican Party was able to gain such pervasive power despite becoming so dark and crazy that it could nominate, elect, and continue to support so monstrous a President as Donald Trump.
All of which clearly shows how huge are the stakes in this battle. What’s at stake is not only the future of America, but its soul as well.
We are now faced with the task of being the heroes that turn America back from disaster—back from plutocracy, from a world wracked with the consequences of climate change, from a society where groups are forever in conflict rather than engaged in cooperation, from a fascist spirit that crushes human freedom and lusts after power over others.
We are now challenged to drive this dark force from power, to regain the capacity of America to act on the basis of decent values, such as a genuine concern for others, a commitment to the honesty, and a healthy respect for reality, which means for the truth.
But there are strong reasons for concerns that our side –Liberal America and the Democratic Party – will not have what it takes to make the most of the opportunity with which we are now presented.
Although the recent encouraging victories of our side — e.g. in the 2018 Blue Wave election — give hope, these recent victories are but the latest episodes in a continuous, generation-long political struggle during which the Democrats compiled a disastrous record of weakness and ineffectuality.
The fact that something so unthinkable as the election of Donald Trump became possible can be explained only in the light of steady accumulation, over the past generation, of advances in power by the destructive force that has taken over the right.
And every victory for that side was inescapably a defeat for ours.
I’d feel more confident of our future success if our side showed more interest in asking the question: Why did our side lose so much ground, over such a long stretch of time, to a political force whose destructiveness and disgraceful conduct was so plain to see?
We Democrats seem to have regarded what’s happened on the right as having nothing to do with us. As if it just happened on the Republican side.
But when disgraceful political behavior that should be punished is instead rewarded — with gains in power won through free elections – the opposing party, which failed to impose on the wrong-doers the appropriate political price, has demonstrated a dangerous weakness in battle.
Might the recent change in the tide of battle shown by the American electorate transferring power from the Rs to the Ds prove that the old sources of weakness have been overcome?
Experience should have taught us that’s hardly guaranteed.
The election of 2008 also shifted power to the Ds. Yet eight years later that Democratic Presidency had fallen very far short of its initial transformational ambitions, and the Republicans had risen to nearly total dominance.
Perhaps it could be argued that this time it’s different. One might assert that the problem was that – until now – Democrats were “asleep” about just what kind of ugly thing was rising on the right, but now they have “awakened” to that dangerous reality. And so, problem solved.
According to this reassuring view, once the monstrousness on the Republican side had become blatant enough – in this unthinkable President who puts no sheep’s clothing over the long-standing Republican “wolf” – enough people could at last perceive the ugliness, be appalled and frightened, and rise up impassioned to drive it from power.
And as I granted above, there has surely been such an awakening since the rise of Trump.
But I have my doubts that this awakening — as profoundly important as it is – will prove sufficient to enable our side to fight this fight well. That terrible won-loss record, compiled over the course of a generation, was inevitably the result of a whole set of habitual ways of behaving. And habits die hard.
Some of these “habits” are at the level of values (it is necessary always to be “nice”), some at the level of choices of conduct (like shrinking from a fight), and some at the level of belief (e.g. there is nothing operating in the human world that warrants being called “evil”).
Moreover, the mess we’re in is not just about Trump. So therefore being appalled at Trump’s blatant ugliness and destructiveness will not suffice to rescue the nation.
It is also about the Republican Party whose darkness has long been gathering. Before there was Trump, there was a Republican base that would choose a monster like Trump. And by the time there was Trump, there were Republican leaders in Congress who would choose to fight alongside Donald Trump and thus against every value that Trump is attacking and every norm, law, and American ideal that Trump violates.
So if Democrats fight this fight as if putting a check-and-balance against Trump – or even removing him from office – were sufficient, we will have done something important, but also failed to make full use of this opportunity.
It is time to rout this Republican force that generated millions of Republican voters who would look at such an atrocity of a leader and like what they saw, and have generated a leadership willing to become the Trump Party.
The Trump crisis creates the opportunity to drive all of that away from power over our nation.
(In a subsequent piece, I will argue that our goal should be “Total Victory.” There will likely never be a more opportune time to drive this version of the Republican Party into utter oblivion.)
Another reason for concern about our readiness for this battle is that our side has shown so little interest in understanding our side’s role in allowing this darkness to gain such power.
I would feel more confident about the readiness of the newly-aroused Democratic Party to win the current political battle against Trump and the Trump Party if I heard Democrats discussing such questions as:
- How could Democrats have fought more effectively against the Republicans over the past quarter century, so that America wouldn’t be in the ugly mess we’re in now?
- Why didn’t Democrats wage that battle in that better, more powerful way?
- And how must we change to overcome those things that made us weak?