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Democrats: Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!

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What I wouldn’t give to feel comfortable in this world again!

I see that the political futures market (Predictit.org) currently pegs the likelihood of Trump being re-elected at 41%. My guess is that the probability is not that high– but I remember thinking he wouldn’t win the first time. Almost one chance in two of four more years of this human wrecking ball wielding the powers of the American presidency?!

If we grant for the moment some “wisdom of the crowd,” what does that suggest about the wisdom of the “Forget about impeaching this monster, just beat him in 2020” school of thought?

Then there’s something I heard last night that reminded me of how relentlessly and unscrupulously — and all too successfully — the Republicans push every possible way of increasing their power, while the Democrats have plodded along as if American politics were still normal.

An Asymmetry of Aggressiveness

It was Matt Miller, former Justice Department spokesman during the Obama administration, speaking on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. Miller explained why it was that the FBI handled the Trump investigation properly during the 2016 campaign– i.e. made no public announcements regarding an ongoing investigation — whereas it broke with departmental norms with the Hillary investigation (with Comey’s game-changing announcement 11 days before the election).

The reason, he said, was that the Republicans in Congress were applying great pressure to Comey — pressure to which he regrettably yielded. Whereas the Democrats respected the norms of American justice. All-out warfare vs. gentlemanly clean striving. Hence the asymmetrical conduct of the FBI– an asymmetry which probably made the difference in who became President.

Now I’m not suggesting that the Democrats sink to the level of the Republicans. I am not proposing that the Democrats break rules, laws, norms, nor that they lie and cheat. One party like that is one too many.

All I want the Democrats to do, within the rules and with fidelity to the truth,  is to match is that all-out intensity and determination to prevail.

Our elected Democratic leaders have upped their game of late. But there’s room for considerable escalation within the rules– and that escalation would be entirely appropriate.

If it were up to me to call the play, I’d have them begin impeachment proceedings against William Barr. And I’d step up the crescendo on impeaching Trump himself.

I’d not just be mentioning “inherent contempt,” I’d be moving full-speed ahead to use it. This is not time for circling around the ring planning future punches. It’s time to go toe-to-toe and throw leather.

I’ve been following this Republican-Democratic dynamic since the 1980s. (My first op/ed on how the Democrats were allowing themselves to be outfought was back when Reagan was President.)

As I’ve written here before (“Hoping This Time the Democrats Can Avoid their ‘Characteristic Error‘”): If there is a single instance of the Democrats making the mistake of being too aggressive, I am not aware of it. Not one.

Needed: Creative Dramatization

More aggressiveness is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

The Democratic leaders — like Nancy Pelosi and Jerry Nadler — are intelligent, highly skilled, good people. But their training and their experience have prepared them for a political world unlike the present one (both of them are in their 70s). And their long-standing skills as members of Congress have equipped them for tasks unlike the one America needs for them to perform right now.

That task is to educate as broad a swath of the American electorate as possible about the truth concerning Trumpian wrong-doing, and to move them to support the actions necessary to protect American democracy.

That requires a process of dramatization of those truths in a maximally impactful way.

Also on MSNBC last night was William Yeomans, another former Justice Department official. Yeomans spoke to this need for the Democrats to find creative ways of reaching and moving the American public. Don’t get too diverted into “process” matters like subpoena battles and contempt citations, Yeomans said. As interesting as they are to legal beagles, that’s not what will grab public attention.

If I were in Pelosi’s or Nadler’s shoes, here’s what I might do: convene a weekend workshop for the purpose of coming up with a good creative framework for how to unfold an impactful drama for the American people. I’d invite a group of maybe a dozen people of diverse areas of expertise — complementary to the kind of expertise of our veteran Democratic congressional leaders — to advise on what a maximally effective approach might look like.

Here are some illustrative examples of the kind of people I’d want to bring together for that purpose:

  • Steven Spielberg– whose career shows him a master at telling stories that grab and move an audience. (Also from the world of “show business,” I’d think about Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks.) *
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez– whose youth has enabled her to fit her style to the culture of this time, and whose creativity has made her exceptionally impactful for a “mere” freshwoman in Congress.
  • Lawrence Tribe– or some other person whose background gives them mastery of the constitutional stakes in this political battle.

(And of course the Democrats’ experienced political leaders would contribute their own essential insights to shape the strategy.)

It would be important to have someone moderating the discussion with the ability to effectively synthesize the various kinds of insights being offered into a more or less coherent strategy.

And I imagine it would be important to keep the lines of communication open for ongoing ideas about the mid-course adjustments to be made as events transform the battlefield in not altogether predictable ways.

I, too, am in my 70s. And like Pelosi and Nadler I, too, find this Trump-dominated America quite different from the society in which I grew up. This dangerous new challenge requires creative new approaches. And the Democratic leaders should recognize the need to tap into sources of creativity that lay outside the tool box with which their own backgrounds furnished them.

If they do that, I do believe that we can yet have an America in which decent Americans of good will can feel comfortable again.

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*NOTE: In my piece here on May 4th, “How the Democrats Can Fight This More Powerfully,” I wrote: “Find a way to make the movie that gets them to see the evil of the imperial Death Star while showing that the Force is with you.” The skills of movie-making are indeed relevant to meeting the present challenge.