One point in my piece yesterday — “How the Democrats Can Fight This More Powerfully” — was that the Democrats need to find the right language to talk about this Trumpian threat. A language of moral passion that will help move public opinion in America toward supporting Congress’s dealing with Trump and his gang in the way that our founders would surely have thought necessary for the protection of the nation.
How do you speak so as to increase the number of Americans who feel a real stake in defeating this destructive President (and the political force that supports him)?
I’m going to be keeping an eye out for illustrations of the typical misjudgments Democratic leaders make in choosing how they talk about what it is they’re fighting against. I’ll begin here with the two examples I just happen to come across in the past few hours.
Both come from leading contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Trump “a Clown”?
The first is from former Vice President Joe Biden. An article on Politico quotes Biden as saying, “There’s so many nicknames I’m inclined to give this guy. You can just start with clown.”
Clown? Is that going to move Americans to recognize the serious threat Trump and Trumpism represents to their future?
Is Trump something funny and entertaining — or at least harmless — like a clown? Does that image capture how Trump is attacking so much of what has been good about America, about his acting like a dictator? Does it capture his unerring instinct to make everything he touches more broken?
The point is not to undermine people’s respect for Trump. It’s to get them to see the danger he poses to things they care about.
Proof Does More than “Call into Question”
On Friday evening, Senator Kamala Harris was interviewed on the Rachel Maddow Show. Overall, Harris’s performance was impressive. She showed qualities that are important for this battle. But several times, she used a locution that illustrates how Democrats too often pull their punches. One might say she lapsed into a typical kind of Democratic Mealy-Mouth Speak.
(Mealy-mouthed defined: “avoiding the use of direct and plain language, as from timidity, excessive delicacy, or hypocrisy; inclined to mince words…”)
They were discussing AG William Barr’s disgraceful conduct before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Senator Harris Serves. They’d played the video of Senator Harris conducting some excellent questioning of Barr, concerning whether he was in conversation with Trump and the White House about the idea of Barr’s investigating people. Maddow and Harris were doing a good job of exposing how dishonest and obfuscating Barr’s testimony was, and how he’s obviously acting like Trump’s instrument rather than fulfilling the real responsibilities of the Attorney General of the United States.
All that was good. But then Senator Harris, talking about what all that shows about AG Barr’s “integrity, said that Barr’s conduct “calls into question” Barr’s integrity. Lest one think that she somehow had landed accidentally on the wrong phrase, she actually returned to that same locution — “calls into question” — twice more.
But no. We’re well beyond having “questions” about Barr’s integrity. He’s abundantly answered that question — even before his shameful testimony before the Senate this past week.
What she should have said is something like that — in his conduct then, and throughout this time he’s been working to protect Trump since the Mueller Report landed on his desk — “Barr has revealed a complete — and highly dangerous — lack of integrity.”
The Need to Break the Liberal Habits of Weakness
These, as I said, are just the two I’ve come across in recent hours. Examples are abundant, and they bespeak habits of speech that have been evident in the Democratic world for the past generation.
Those habits have had consequences: they have contributed to the Democrats’ loss of ground to the unprecedented destructive force that’s taken over the Republican Party. And therefore they have contributed to the ongoing damage that force has been able to inflict on our nation.
Now that we’re approaching what should be a climactic battle, those habits should be raised to awareness and should be overcome.