As anyone who knew me in college can tell you, I’ve always been a political science nerd. I loved the inside baseball details, I loved the social norms, I loved The Process. And like any good political science nerd, I took it as an article of faith that the way to win elections and especially the way to govern was right down the middle, avoiding the extremes of both sides. I believed in bipartisanship, I believed in seeking common ground, I believed in working together. Not anymore.
I remember the first time I realized something was very seriously wrong. It was 1995. Like most Democrats, I cheered the election of Bill Clinton. I thought, finally we have a New Way. Finally, we have a candidate who can shake off the stale liberal past and chart a new course. And then I watched the Republican Party go completely and utterly insane. There were the dark, paranoid emails about the Clinton Murders. There were the insane black helicopter conspiracy theories about the UN coming to “take our guns.” There was the rise of incendiary, nearly psychotic Right Wing talk radio. And then came Oklahoma City. The worst terrorist attack on American soil, innocent people, women and children, callously murdered by a Right Wing terrorist with strong militia ties and anti-government views. And what was the response of the Republican Congress? They invited the militia to testify before a special hearing, concerned that they were getting a bad name. Because little children had been murdered. It was as if, in the wake of 9/11, Democrats had invited Hamas to address Congress and lay out their concerns. That was the last time I ever cast a ballot for a Republican. Any party that would willingly ally with such creatures will never get my vote. And then it got worse: impeachment, the stolen 2000 election, George W. Bush, The PATRIOT Act, Iraq, being told that any questioning of the president was treason.
When Barack Obama was elected, the GOP went completely off the cliff, pledging themselves to his defeat before he’d even taken office. And, partly due to Obama’s political naïveté, they were rewarded, first with the House in 2010, then the Senate. Why? Because the fundamental assumption of Postwar politics, that there was a vast moderate middle, had vaporized. Karl Rove, the evil genius, figured it out early with his 51% nation strategy. There is no Middle; 90% of the voters are comprised of people who will never vote for a Democrat under any circumstances (overwhelmingly white) or people who will never vote for a Republican under any circumstances (mostly nonwhite). Elections are won by whichever side turns out its base. The ultimate result of this bitter divide, and all the hatred and insanity and racism and xenophobia used to produce it, is Donald Trump.
Lessons the Republican Party has taught me:
- Elections are NEVER over
- Elections NEVER have consequences unless my side wins
- The other party is ALWAYS the enemy
- Cooperation or bipartisanship equals treason
If ANY other Republican had won in November, even someone as odious as Ted Cruz or as incompetent as Rick Perry, I wouldn’t feel this way. But Trump represents an existential threat to the very survival of the republic. As long as he squats in office, all bets are off. The only way to prevent Trump from permanently damaging if not destroying democracy in America is for Democrats to win control of Congress, an uphill battle already. The only hope the Democrats have of winning is to convince the base to turn out and the only way to do that is to fight Trump at every turn. This strategy mostly only has a chance of success under the Byzantine rules of the senate: Filibuster everything. Deny unanimous consent. Walk out. Break quorum. March with the protestors. Attack Trump for his rampant, obvious corruption. Will they win? Not in the short term, no. People who think Mitch McConnell won’t do away with the filibuster are living in a fantasy world; McConnell would literally personally burn the senate chamber to the ground to win a vote. But Senate Democrats should be under no illusions that collaboration will help them win elections; Democrats who vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch or Rex Tillerson will be blasted as traitors, terrorist-lovers, and communists just as hard as Democrats who vote no.
Yes, it’s sad that our democratic norms of governance are dead. There are a variety of reasons for it that I’ll talk about in another post. For now though, we have to concentrate on the task at hand: saving America. And to do that, Democrats must learn to fight like Republicans.