Barack Obama is cleaning up after the casually careless white guy again. George Bush – the second one – not the first one no one remembers now – did not leave Iraq and thus the whole Middle East in perfect shape eight years ago, in spite of what most Republicans say now. Create a Shiite state in Iraq and the Sunnis will resist. They formed Al-Qaeda in Iraq to resist that government. That became ISIS – to resist all such governments. ISIS was inevitable. That’s what Obama had to clean up. That’s still a work in progress.
Bush left the economy in shambles too. The Republican argument seems to be that the obviously rather impressive recovery from total disaster could have been a much better recovery, even if they did block everything that Obama tried to do to fix things, as they proudly admit. But the stock market is at an all-time high, unemployment is as low as it has ever been, wages are finally growing a bit, the economy has steadily added millions of private-sector jobs, year after year after year, and the deficit as a percentage of GDP has dropped far below normal – so Obama did clean up that mess.
On the other hand, ISIS is scary and many were left out in the recovery – but they would have been left out of the recovery anyway, unless Donald Trump is going to now forbid the use of industrial robots, so every Ford will now have to be built by hand. He should probably mandate that those Fords run on coal too, because the coal industry isn’t coming back. Coal is a rather useless fuel now. Power plants use natural gas – it’s cheaper and easier to handle – and solar power is just as cheap now. There is no war on coal. That ended many years ago. Coal lost. Some jobs aren’t coming back. They never will.
That’s just the way it is, but things are not half bad. They’re actually not bad at all. Still, people are unhappy. Obama cleaned up a big mess. They expected more. They didn’t get it.
Obama can live with that. He shrugs. He did what he could – but now he has to clean up after another careless white guy again. At the moment, Obama is in Europe – his last state visit anywhere – explaining to Merkel and the rest that Donald Trump is not going to have the United States withdraw from NATO and let them deal with their own problems. He only says that. When the Russian tanks roll into the Baltic States, and Poland and whatnot, America will come to their aid – really, it will. Trump is only hinting that America won’t. He’ll resist Putin, even if he loves the guy. And America really won’t withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal everyone signed, and just bomb them back to the Stone Age. That’s just bluster. Trump knows better – and he may withdraw America from the Paris Accords on climate change that almost every nation signed, but he’ll make sure America addresses global warming. There’s the science. There are the rising seas and melting icecaps. He’s not dumb, and he only hints that America’s new two main allies will be Putin in Russia and Assad in Syria. He’s not really serious. He’s not that dumb. Everything will be okay.
No one seems to be buying that. That’s too big a mess. Trump’s words are out there – but Obama is doing the honorable thing. Trump won. Hillary Clinton didn’t. Someone’s got to hold the world together. Someone has to mitigate the damage. Someone has to clean up this new mess. Obama will do what he can. That’s the right thing to do. Do what you can.
But Obama will be gone soon, and what will the Democrats do? They got thumped. Do they now play along as best they can, meekly undoing what damage they can, offering quiet reassurance that everything will be okay – really, it will – even if they don’t really believe that? Or do they denounce and resist it all, because, after all, they have their principles? Madness is madness. Madness should not be excused. Madness should not be glossed over. Should they be more than the opposition? Even if it sounds a bit too French, should they be The Resistance?
It’s not just the foreign policy issues. Eugene Robinson speaks for the domestic resistance:
The people chose Hillary Clinton. But it’s the electoral vote that counts, not the popular vote, so Donald Trump will be president. And no, I’m not over it.
No one should be over it. No one should pretend that Trump will be a normal president. No one should forget the bigotry and racism of his campaign, the naked appeals to white grievance, the stigmatizing of Mexicans and Muslims. No one should forget the jaw-dropping ignorance he showed about government policy both foreign and domestic. No one should forget the vile misogyny. No one should forget the mendacity, the vulgarity, the ugliness, the insanity. None of this should ever be normalized in our politics.
Everyone knows this:
The big protests that have followed Trump’s election should be no surprise. You can’t spend all those months trashing our nation’s values and then expect everyone to join you in a group hug. Trump made the bed in which he now must lie.
And there should be a resistance:
If a normal Republican had been elected, I could say the polite and socially acceptable thing, something like “I didn’t support So-and-So, but he will be my president, too, and I wish him success.” But I cannot wish Trump success in rounding up and deporting millions of people or banning Muslims from entering the country or reinstituting torture as an instrument of U.S. policy. In these and other divisive, cruel, unwise initiatives, I wish him failure.
I do hope he succeeds in avoiding some kind of amateurish foreign policy blunder that puts American lives or vital national interests at risk. And let me be clear that I am not questioning his legitimacy as president. When the results are certified and the Electoral College casts its votes, Trump will be the nation’s duly chosen leader, ridiculous though that may be.
But he has not earned our trust or hope. Rather, he has earned the demonstrations that have erupted in cities across the country. He has earned relentless scrutiny by journalists, whom he shamelessly made into scapegoats during the campaign, and he has earned the constant vigilance of the public he now must serve.
That of course, required a shockproof, foolproof crap-detector, although Robinson does use Hemingway’s famous words here:
On “60 Minutes,” Trump hinted that he might moonwalk away from some of his most radical promises on immigration – the issue that made him stand out from the crowd of Republican contenders. He said he will still build a wall on the Mexican border, but there “could be some fencing” instead of an actual wall in places. And he said that “we’re going to make a determination” about the fate of millions of undocumented immigrants who have not committed crimes – sounding as if he knows his pledge to carry out mass deportation cannot be fulfilled.
He also backed away from the idea of having a special prosecutor reinvestigate Clinton over her emails. “They’re good people, I don’t want to hurt them,” he said of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Ah, but he implied he could hurt them. He has that power. Don’t mess with him. He can do anything now. Get used to it. Still, he did back off a bit on a few of the wilder things, and Robinson offers this:
If Trump is beginning to confront reality on some fronts, that’s a first step – in a thousand-mile journey toward credibility and respect.
In short, resist him for now and maybe forever, but, as Robinson notes later, don’t get smug about it:
Democrats should reject the urge to take comfort in favorable demographic trends. It is true that within a generation, minorities will be in the majority – and that minorities tend to vote for Democrats. But what would the country be like after 20 or 30 years of near-total Republican control? I’m sure most progressives would join me in not wanting to run that dangerous experiment.
So, face the facts:
Did Democrats lose the White House because their presidential candidate had baggage and was not perfect in every way? Come on, the Republicans nominated Trump, for heaven’s sake, a man who bragged about grabbing women by the genitals. I don’t have nearly enough space to list all the ways in which he disqualified himself. Yet he won.
The Republican Party is so splintered – the establishment, the tea party wing, the fiscal tightwads, the defense hawks, the social conservatives, the libertarians and now the Trumpistas – that sometimes I think of it as Afghanistan: with each faction having its own warlords and grievances and goals. Many of the demands they make upon Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be uncompromisingly extreme and mutually exclusive. There will be blood (metaphorically, of course).
Yet if Democrats expect to sit back and watch the GOP self-destruct, I fear they will be disappointed. Consider this fact: The Republican Party not only survived the Trump candidacy, but prospered. Why would the same not be true of a Trump presidency?
And there are these facts:
The Democratic Party cannot hope to succeed by relying solely on its ability to win the popular vote in presidential elections. Democrats have won the popular vote in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008, 2012 and now 2016. That’s six out of the last seven presidential contests. Yet the Republican Party is running the country, or at least most of it.
Deal with it:
The Democratic Party cannot just wait for the next Barack Obama to come along. The president is a unique political talent of the kind that appears only once in a great while, when the stars magically align. Instead, Democrats need to do what Republicans did, which is to build from the ground up and start winning state and local elections.
A Democratic rebound has to begin with the basics: Getting people who agree with you to vote. Less than 60 percent of those eligible to cast ballots in last week’s election bothered to do so. Conservatives who say this is “a center-right nation” may be right in terms of who votes, but they’re wrong in terms of who could vote. Polls show that the country favors Democratic over Republican positions on most issues.
The Democratic Party should put its energy and money into connecting with potential voters at the grass-roots level. Trump made a bunch of pie-in-the-sky promises he can never keep. Democrats need a hopeful but realistic message recognizing that while most big cities prosper in today’s globalized economy, much of the rest of the country suffers.
And so on and so forth, although Jamelle Bouie has a different take on this:
Democrats are still managing their response to the next four years of a President Donald Trump. Will they work with his administration? On that score, two of the most prominent Democrats in the country, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have an answer.
He doesn’t like that answer:
“There are millions of people who did not vote for Donald Trump because of the bigotry and hate that fueled his campaign rallies. They voted for him despite hate,” Warren said in a speech after the election. “They voted for him out of frustration and anger – and also out of hope that he would bring change.”
Writing in the New York Times, Sanders had a similar take. “Millions of Americans registered a protest vote on Tuesday, expressing their fierce opposition to an economic and political system that puts wealthy and corporate interests over their own,” he wrote. “Donald J. Trump won the White House because his campaign rhetoric successfully tapped into a very real and justified anger, an anger that many traditional Democrats feel.”
Both Warren and Sanders emphasize that bigotry was part of Trump’s message. But they want to separate the “deplorables” from the larger group of more ordinary Americans who just wanted a change of pace. And to that end, they both promise to work with Trump provided he chooses a populist agenda. Said Sanders “If the president-elect is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families, I’m going to present some very real opportunities for him to earn my support.” Said Warren: “When President-elect Trump wants to take on these issues, when his goal is to increase the economic security of the middle-class families, then count me in.” If Trump embraces the bigotry and hatred of his campaign, however, both Sanders and Warren promise to fight him without compromise. “We will not give an inch on this,” said Warren.
That won’t do:
At first glance, this seems well and good: a firm commitment to winning victories where they are available, tied to an absolute line against policies targeting immigrants, Muslims, or any other group. But there’s a problem here, and it’s found in the cast given to Trump’s campaign and Trump’s voters. Both Warren and Sanders describe Trump’s effort as a populist campaign with an almost incidental use of racial prejudice. In this version, most Trump voters simply wanted a stronger, fairer economy. The attacks on immigrants, Muslims, and black Americans were regrettable, but not a part of the appeal.
Warren and Sanders are wrong, and in a way that signals a significant misreading of the landscape on the part of the most influential Democrats. The simple truth is that Trump’s use of explicit racism – his deliberate attempt to incite Americans against different groups of nonwhites – was integral to his campaign. It was part and parcel of his “populism” and told a larger story: that either at home or abroad, foreigners and their “globalist” allies were cheating the American worker, defined as a white working-class man with a factory job. To claw back the dominion he once enjoyed – to “make America great again” – Trump promised protectionism and “law and order.” He promised to deport immigrants, register Muslims, and build new infrastructure. This wasn’t “populism”; it was white populism.
That’s the problem here:
It seems reasonable for Warren and Sanders to make a distinction between Trump as blue-collar populist and Trump as racist demagogue. But that distinction doesn’t exist. Supporting a Trump-branded infrastructure initiative as a discrete piece of policy where two sides can find common ground only bolsters a white-nationalist politics, even if you oppose the rest of Trump’s agenda. It legitimizes and gives fuel to white tribalism as a political strategy. It shows that there are tangible gains for embracing Trump-style demagoguery.
Likewise, it seems reasonable to want to recast support for Trump as an expression of populism. But Trump’s is a racial populism – backed almost entirely by white Americans, across class lines – that revolves around demands to reinforce existing racial and status hierarchies. That’s what it means to “make America great again.” It has nothing to offer to working-class blacks who need safety from unfair police violence just as much as they need higher wages, or working-class Latinos who need to protect their families from draconian immigration laws as much as they need a chance to unionize.
This is what Warren and Sanders ignore:
To gesture at individual voters and say they aren’t racists – the usual rejoinder to this argument – is to miss the point. White voters backed Trump as a bloc. They ignored his bigotry and elevated his call for a new nationalism, centered on white Americans. Whatever their actual intentions – whether they were partisan Republicans, hardcore Trumpists, or simply disgusted with Hillary Clinton – they voted for white nationalism, full stop.
The more Democrats obscure that, the more they run the real risk of being co-opted, of bolstering the political prospects of ethno-nationalism in the name of a broad “populism” that isn’t actually at play. An infrastructure bill doesn’t outweigh the impact of Trump’s attacks on communities of color, even if it’s influenced by the left.
Bouie prefers Harry Reid with this:
I have personally been on the ballot in Nevada for 26 elections and I have never seen anything like the reaction to the election completed last Tuesday. The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America…
We as a nation must find a way to move forward without consigning those who Trump has threatened to the shadows. Their fear is entirely rational, because Donald Trump has talked openly about doing terrible things to them. …
If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump, a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate. Winning the Electoral College does not absolve Trump of the grave sins he committed against millions of Americans. Donald Trump may not possess the capacity to assuage those fears, but he owes it to this nation to try.
Reid doesn’t preclude cooperation; this isn’t a call for blockade. What the Nevada senator does, however, is center the fears and concerns of nonwhite Americans. He essentially offers conditional terms: If you work to reduce and repudiate the fear and hate of your campaign, then there is a chance to “move forward.” Otherwise, there are no deals to make.
Reid’s statement has all the room you need for a populist message to working-class whites. But it makes that message contingent on buy-in for an inclusive agenda, attuned to the concerns of marginalized Americans. In this vision, the concerns of those Americans are correctly understood as populist concerns, indispensable to the whole.
That may be what’s necessary here:
It matters that Warren and Sanders (and, it seems, the likely chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison) have made a choice to obscure the fundamental tribalism of Trump’s appeal. It matters that they’ve cast the bigotry of Trump’s movement as an element to oppose if it comes, and not an essential part of the whole. To take that step is to sanction white nationalism as a legitimate political appeal, thus rewarding the fight against liberal pluralist democracy.
There is a path for Democrats to build a more populist, class-centered party. But this isn’t it.
Jonathan Chait agrees with that critique of Warren and Sanders, but for slightly different reasons:
They apparently believe that cooperating with Trump will provide them with a political advantage, and are seeking out potential issues – infrastructure, child care, trade – to do so. This is a disastrous misreading of all the evidence of how politics works.
Chait says that politics works like this:
Trump won white voters in swing states that Democrats need. The most important reason for his success was intense, widespread distrust of Hillary Clinton, but to the extent the election carries lessons going forward other than “have a less-hated nominee than Hillary Clinton,” embracing economic populism is a sensible one. Their mistake is the apparent belief by many Democrats that they can burnish their reputation for economic populism by joining with Trump.
Don’t do it:
This would be a sensible way to conceive of the choice if voters judged the congressional party independently of how it judged the president. But a vast array of political-science research finds just the opposite. The single accountability mechanism through which the public makes its political choices is the president. If the president is seen as succeeding, voters will reward his party. If he is seen as failing, they will punish it. Presidential approval is so dominant it even drives voting in state legislative races. What’s more, scholars have found, cooperation from Congress sends a signal that the president is succeeding, and conflict sends a signal of failure.
This was the strategy Republicans embraced from the outset of the Obama administration. “We’ve got to challenge them on every bill and challenge them on every single campaign,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy at a meeting before Obama’s inauguration. The Republican Congress understood that bipartisan cooperation of any kind would elevate Obama and lead voters to reward his party for it.
In short, do NOT make Trump look good. It’s that simple, and Peter Dreier puts that this way:
Donald Trump isn’t Hitler. The United States is not Weimar Germany. Our economic problems are nowhere as bad as those in Depression-era Germany. Nobody in the Trump administration (not even Steven Bannon) is calling for genocide (although saber-rattling with nuclear weapons could lead to global war if we’re not careful).
That said, it is useful for liberals, progressives and radicals to think and strategize as though we face that kind of situation. None of us in our lifetimes have confronted an American government led by someone like Trump in terms of his sociopathic, demagogic, impulsive, thin-skinned and vindictive personality (not even Nixon came close), his right-wing inner circle, his reactionary and dangerous policy agenda on foreign policy; the economy; the environment; health care; immigration; civil liberties; and poverty; his willingness to overtly invoke all the worst ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds in order to appeal to the most despicable elements of our society and unleash an upsurge of racism, anti-Semitism, sexual assault, and nativism by the KKK and other hate groups; his lack of understanding about Constitutional principles and the rule of law; and his lack of experience with collaboration and compromise. All this while presiding over a federal government in which all three branches are controlled by right-wing corporate-funded Republicans.
We may be lucky to discover that Trump might be an incompetent leader and unable to unite the Republicans, but we shouldn’t count on it.
This calls for resistance:
In the not-too-distant future, we can try to translate our progressive policy agenda into actual policies – adopting campaign finance reform, immigration reform, stronger environmental regulations, stricter rules on Wall Street, and greater investment in jobs and anti-poverty programs; turning Election Day into a national holiday, reforming our labor laws, protecting women’s right to choose, expanding LGBT rights, making our tax system more progressive, reforming our racist criminal justice system, investing more public dollars in job-creating infrastructure and clean energy projects; adopting paid family leave, and expanding health insurance to all and limiting the influence of the drug and insurance industry.
But, at the moment, our stance must be one of resistance and opposition.
The Trump presidency and Trumpism is a new phenomenon in our country’s history. Never before has such an authoritarian personality been president. We’ve had demagogues in the House and Senate, but never in the Oval Office…
It is not enough simply to proceed with caution. We must view Trump as a real threat to our institutions, to our democracy, and to our future.
The Brits have that motto – Keep Calm and Carry On. That’s what Obama has been telling everyone to do. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders offer a modified version of that – Keep Calm and Try to Do a Little Good Here and There – but that can make things worse. Trump will win a second term and the Republicans will be in power forever. It may be time to do the French thing. Sing La Marseillaise at critical times. That worked in Casablanca after all. It’s like that now.