There’s no doubt in my mind that when historians look at what’s going on now in the American political realm, they will say that hands down the main drama was what might be called the “Trump Crisis.”
Of course there are issues that are important to people’s lives, but what happens with those issues that impacts people’s lives depends on how power is being wielded in the society, and the Trump Crisis has brought us to the point where we face a test, as House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler right described it,
“whether we can keep a republic, or whether this republic is destined to change into a different, more tyrannical form of government, as other republics have over the centuries.”
That’s what historians will say needed to be dealt with successfully– a prerequisite to dealing with anything else successfully in the years to come. For every other issue, it is imperative that we maintain a government that is answerable to the people and thus not just of the people, but by and for them as well.
(It makes no sense to discuss plans for remodeling the kitchen while ignoring that the house is burning down. Even the great crisis of climate change requires that the Trump Crisis be dealt with.)
Second point: Whether America passes this test or not is clearly being decided by a battle.
For a generation, at the Republicans insistence, our politics have been defined by Republicans’ fighting for power, not caring about cooperating for the general good. And that applies even more so at this moment of the Trump Crisis: the Republican side of things — the Republican President who is defying the constitutional authority of Congress, the Republican Attorney General who is his accomplice in the obstruction of justice, and the Republican Party that has made itself that President’s servant — has assured the outcome of this “time of testing” will be determined by the outcome of a fierce political battle.
And it remains quite uncertain what the outcome of this battle — between lawlessness and the rule of law, between our constitutional order and tyranny — will be. (The odds makers and the wisdom of the crowd say there’s a very substantial chance that Donald Trump will get a second term. That should be proof of how dire our current situation is.)
With so much at stake, and with the outcome in doubt, one would hope that the Democrats would match the intensity of these lawless Republicans in fighting that battle. That does not appear to be the case.
While Trump and his gang have gone all-out to abuse their powers to put the President above the rule of law, the Democrats in the House — led by Speaker Pelosi — have not likewise intensified their side of the battle and gone all-out to use their constitutional powers to uphold the rule of law. Abuse of power by the lawless versus non-use of power by the defenders of the Constitution is not a hopeful combination.
Maybe Speaker Pelosi, as she sometimes implies, is marshalling her forces in preparation for an eventual attack that will show that she and the Democrats she leads are fully determined to fight and win. If so, her approach looks unwise to me, but at least it’s about fighting the battle that needs to be joined.
What looks more likely to me, and to many observers, is that she wants to avoid the battle necessitated by the Trump Crisis, to ignore emergency — the visible threat to our constitutional order — and fight for power solely through a normal electoral process.
Which means, to me, that the Democratic World truly needs new leadership.
I have a small fantasy of Jerry Nadler deciding, with his committee, to move toward impeachment without Pelosi, if she never gives the green light (assuming the Committee can do that on its own).
But mostly I’m looking to the 2020 field for that new leadership– a field that offers us a diversity of quality options. We must get clear, however, on just what qualities are most important.
Therefore, because the most important issue for this moment is whether lawlessness and the lie will defeat the American constitutional order, the rule of law, and respect for the truth — whether we will preserve our republic or move toward tyranny — and because the outcome on this issue will be determined by a battle in the realm of politics and power, the main question we should be asking about our potential presidential nominees is this:
How effectively can they fight — and lead us — in that battle,* to take power away from this force of brokenness that has taken over the Republican world, and so that American democracy shall not perish from this earth.
I continue to believe that pressing for impeachment is an important part of how these would-be Democratic standard bearers should demonstrate what kind of leadership they can provide for this battle.
(And for that reason, I welcome the news that Elizabeth Warren is pressing Pelosi on the impeachment issue, saying “Some things are above politics.”)
But pressing the battle to make sure that this Trump Crisis gets resolved with the nation and its constitutional order as intact as possible can take many forms.
The main point is that the main qualification for becoming the Democrats’ new leader is that she/he demonstrate the ability to fight and win against the force that’s taken over the Republican Party and that continues to do so much damage to the nation.
We need to nominate the equivalent of a “war-time leader” for a particular political kind of warfare.