¬†No Cooperation. No Compromise. Learn From the Past and Let Trump and His Confederates¬†Bury Themselves.
The most important thing we can start with is an attitude: The incoming Trump administration cannot be normalized. His presidency was not earned but gained illegitimately by a basketful of deceitful¬†means, such as Russian hacking, fake news, outrageous lies, verifiable voter suppression¬†and promises he had no intention of keeping. And of course Trump lost the popular vote by two million plus.
Yes, there will be a changing of the guard. But that attitude is important and should be carried with us always. It worked very well for our loyal opposition.
The Party of ‘No’
It was of course eight years ago when Barack Obama was elected president¬†amidst the Great Recession, when the economy was hemorrhaging jobs and draining the net worth of millions of families. During the final¬†months of the George W. Bush presidency, Democrats helped Republicans¬†salvage what was left of Bush’s legacy by passing TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which allowed the government to rescue the toxic assets of the very banks that caused the financial crisis.
After the 2008 election, President Obama’s stimulus bill, widely credited¬†with slowing the economy’s free-fall, was passed without a single House¬†Republican vote. The vote was an omen.
The Republican party united around obstructing every governing initiative that President Obama¬†presented to Congress. It could be best summarized by a statement made by the late Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich to a reporter in the Senate cloakroom: “If he was for it, we had to be against it.”
Emboldened by their successes, the Party of No took obstruction to the extreme: Last year, they refused to even consider the president’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Senate Republicans filibustered 20 of Obama’s nominees to federal district court–17 more than had been filibustered under all previous presidencies–until Majority leader¬†Harry Reid (D-NV) intervened.
It went from the extreme to the mean-spirited. A member of Congress yelled out, “You lie!” during a State-of-the-Union address. Angry, reckless voices, led by you-know-who, began to question the president’s citizenship and birthright. Angry…reckless.
And yet…it worked.
The Long Road Back
There is a new sheriff in town for the Democrats. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, a reliable liberal, prodigious fundraiser (Wall Street is after all located in New York) and astute strategist, takes the mantle of minority leader from retiring Harry Reid. Schumer told the Washington Post that Democrats “will oppose him with everything we have.” Unfortunately, Schumer doesn’t have a lot to work with right now: no oversight, no committee chairs, no subpoena power and no control over which bills get voted on.
Further, at first glance, the 2018 elections¬†seem ominous. The fates of Democratic stalwarts from red or purple states–Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sen. Clair McCaskill (D-MO), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), to name a few–could ignite¬†either a leadership change or¬†the¬†GOP achieving a filibuster-proof firewall.
However, as I point out in my Nov. 13¬†post titled Silver Linings Payback, the party occupying the White House typically loses seats in the next mid-term election. How can we make that happen? It doesn’t happen automatically.
Lessons of the ’80s
In 1980, another creature of the entertainment world, Ronald Reagan,¬†won the presidency¬†by conquering a grievance-ridden working class (“Reagan Democrats”), and by taking advantage of low Democratic turnout based on lukewarm enthusiasm of the Democratic nominee. The president-elect was widely regarded as ill-informed and volatile.¬†Sound familiar?
At least the Democrats held on to the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Tip O’Neill. Alarm bells rang out in the capitol, as Reagan, like Trump today, went gunning for social security, Medicare, unions,¬†public schools and the environment.
Oppose, but Not Obstruct
But the wily O’Neill saw the writing on the wall, especially after Reagan heroically survived an assassination attempt. The speaker’s strategy: oppose, but not obstruct. Unlike Democrats today, O’Neill’s troops could have prevented Reagan’s reckless tax cuts and military build-up from reaching the House floor. Instead, they gave Reagan and¬†the Republicans just enough rope… From Politico:
And yet, just two years later, the Reagan Revolution ground to a halt, whipped in the mid-term elections of 1982…Reaganomics proved a failure.¬† The “supply side” tax cuts were gimmicks. [Reagan advisor David] Stockman was compelled to target social security, infuriating seniors. The economy lurched into a serious and painful downturn…
President Reagan, as it turned out, was forced to raise taxes…seven times. If you don’t believe me, look it up.
I will readily concede that Ronald Reagan is an historic figure.¬†They named¬†a Washington, DC, airport after him. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment was uniting the Republican Party around conservative principles, which is basically where it stands today.¬†He dubiously railed against “big government,” but¬†Reagan is revered because he optimistically¬†believed in America…in its democracy, its Constitution¬†and its¬†rule of law.
Donald Trump has no such respect for democratic institutions or¬†the Constitution. (He even once declared his commitment to Article XII, which doesn’t exist.) Trump’s recent claim–without a shred of evidence–that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who vote illegally”¬†was met with a¬†rebuke¬†in the New York Times, in which¬†Evan McMullin wrote:¬†“This, too, is nothing new. Authoritarians often exaggerate their popular support to increase the perception of their legitimacy. But the deeper objective is to weaken the democratic institutions that limit their power.”
This latest catfight between Trump and the Republican leadership¬†over Russian interference in our elections is a harbinger of more conflicts to come. Coming soon: the hearings on Trump’s cabinet appointments.¬†Tip O’Neill had it right: Why step into a fight when your enemies are hell-bent on destroying each other?
Pass the popcorn.
In Part II: On the Ground: Stirrings from Labor and Community Groups