Dems talk the talk—but lack the systemic agenda to jam the right-wing coup rampage
Nothing of late tarnishes my confidence in this unflappable law of national politics (and much beyond): what is not over time expanding will most likely shrink. This expansion vs. shrinkage model works for science, religion, business, sports, careers, T.V. shows, friendships or marriages. Nothing is immutable, except perhaps for unintended consequences and crazed Trumpers with (certified) losing hands who keep raising the bet.
Certainly, the leader of the Trump cult keeps squandering his electable standing, despite mixed impacts on red state party fisticuffs. No shrinking minority, ever deluded its champion was diddled out of office, can dictate to an engaged majority increasingly aware it’s being conned. Nothing, not mid-term elections, not gerrymandering, not even the Supreme Court, is forever—and old, white, bigoted, (unvaccinated, health-averse) dinosaurs will wither. And no new huge asteroidal earth-smack is needed.
First insight: the siege against Trumpism reflects the vengeful, self-destructive drives of the cult leader and toadies. All advanced by refusing all good advice from party stalwarts. “We don’t need no badges—or advice.” Yet, what major role has the Democratic Party played to fuel the GOP’s suicide march to permanent minority status? Does it even have a strategic knock-out agenda for an opponent driven to one knee? The first step to anything like progressive, systemic reform is decimation of the righ-twing veto wall: it’s why I write what I do.
Is the doubled-edged Trump sword not on full display? The very outlandishness which made him a 2015 media attraction now exiles him to laughable, loser status – the clown president way over his head turned cosmic joke, as gleeful to ridicule his own party leaders as slander Democrats. The Jan. 6 Congressional Committee is slugging it out, but are critical swing voters paying attention? Are they immune to the full horror of a loser who, instead of conceding like every other disgraced candidate, concocted the first and only (failed) presidential coup attempt in American history? However slapdash, the double Trump sedition – don’t concede, just reload – is, as Biden just declared, an ominous dagger at the heart of democratic power transfer.
Words, words, words
Indeed, as rhetoric goes, last week’s high-sounding speeches from AG Garland, Pres. Biden and Sen. Schumer hit predictable high points. Biden’s was especially fiery, for the savvy Heather Digby Parton his best ever, going “right for the jugular, evoking Trump 16 times” without using his name, stamping him a “defeated former president” (emphasis on the word defeated), declaring that Trump’s outsized ego won’t allow him to admit he lost. And that’s the truth—Donald Trump is the greatest sore loser in the history of the world.” Not using Trump’s name was shrewd because—to paraphrase the “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” quip I just heard—for MAGA fantasists, “any time Trump’s name is rung, another insurrectionist gets his wings.”
If true systemic change demands that reformers capitalize on their foe’s woes, why have Democrats not maxed out public outrage over the insurrection, the Big Lie, plus junior Never-ending Lies? The right has fumbled for a full year, throwing softballs to Dems who have whiffed: Biden numbers have slipped while Trump is still heading his unprincipled pack, personified of late by Ted the Cowardly Cruz.
The victorious Biden has not succeeded with what I consider his first tasks: confirm for all but rabid Trumper his legitimacy and, second, display the killer instinct to optimize right-wing pain, already riddled with contradictions, growing dissenters, Never Trumpers, and the furious Bush-Cheney establishment cadre. The message couldn’t be simpler: Trumpist Republicans are not just disqualified from governing but actively pose greater dangers, with insider sedition, than foreign terrorists.
In the art of humiliating the wounded wicked, Biden Democrats have staggered like Lincoln’s reluctant Civil War generals. Maybe swarming NY and GA indictments against Trump and a searing Congressional Report could provide body blows. But don’t Dems realize that until Trumpism is discredited, and Republicans in flight, chances for strongly-worded, offsetting voter suppression bill or Build Back Better program, let alone beginning the march towards do-or-die systemic reforms, are daunting.
My stance goes beyond progressive voices. Liam Kerr on the conservative website The Bulwark agrees:
It’s hard to overstate just how significant an opportunity January 6 initially represented for Democrats. Donald Trump’s anti-democratic movement had, in violent and grotesque fashion, paraded its true colors in front of the nation and the world. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Republican Party shed 12 points in favorability among its own voters while Democrats made a 7-point gain with independents . . . some of Trump’s most ardent and vocal propagandists from Fox News acknowledged in private that the president had crossed a serious line.
Further context from Politico and Corey Robin’s titles say it all, “Republicans Are Moving Rapidly to Cement Minority Rule. Blame the Constitution. Democracy is in trouble, but a lawless coup isn’t the real threat.” In short, we have one out-of-power party
trying to legislate a future in which it can lose elections but legally acquire or hold on to power. We have a second party, currently in power, doing little to stop the first . . . The right’s road to power does not run through street violence, mass rallies, fake news or lawless coups. The left’s weakness has nothing to do with critical race theory and cancel culture. Both claims suffer from the same shortcoming: They focus on the margins rather than the matrix.
To truly widen the context, I add that male, white supremacy came over with the Mayflower and undemocratic institutions informed the Constitution: voting only by white, propertied males, the Electoral College, the Senate, licensing states to decide who votes – these are the gaping weaknesses over which rightwing totalitarians drool. Trumpism did not invent the cracks, but has exposed enough vulnerabilities to shake the foundation and force revision (thanks, Donald). Corey Robin again, what we routinely underestimate is the
architecture of state power, which erects formidable barriers to equal representation and majority rule in all three branches of government. The Republicans are not struggling to overturn a long and storied history of democratic rules and norms. They’re walking through an open door.
A few modest proposals
Until Democrats wake up that their future and the country’s both depend on urgently slamming shut these doors and empowering true majority rule, all the fine rhetoric falls flat until we take on hard tasks:
1) to dump the Electoral College on which so many authoritarian thrusts depend. Why are no visible Democrats pushing to amend the Constitution and make the popular vote absolute, thus bypassing in one fell swoop anti-democratic state-driven venom?
2) make voting rights the central FEDERAL issue and simultaneously handcuff grievous gerrymandering on federally-impacted districts. No unified country can tolerate rogue states that fabricate their own bizarro rules by which a national president is elected. From Jennifer Rubin on Jan 6: “A new University of Massachusetts-Amherst poll finds that a majority of voters support reforms “including automatically registering voters (52%), making Election Day a national holiday (58%) and making vote-by-mail a permanent option to all registered voters (54%), all within three points of the results of a similar UMass Poll conducted in April.”
3) to achieve anything important, high time to obliterate the unholy, extra-Constitutional obstacle called the filibuster. The Senate is already second only to the Supreme Court as a radically unrepresentative body: the 60 vote threshold only adds insult to injury. Reinforce voting rights, then refuse to vote for those not pushing the abolition of the filibuster and the Electoral College.
4) redeem the extremist Supreme Court by adding new judges to a) make it halfway representative of the country, and b) offset the shameless, two-seat skullduggery by Mitch McConnell’s pirate assault. While every Court resists change, justice depends vetoing this rights-killer, whether voting, civil or abortion. When has any Supreme Court been so out touch with strong majority views?
5) neutralize the Citizens United outrage, ending oligarchic billionaire control over so much politics, local and national. Congress (sans filibuster) can return limits on donations per family, per season, per candidate. No rocket science here!
6) restore fair, progressive taxation. Huge majorities endorse taxing the rich, so let’s throw in cutting welfare subsidies to swollen industries (like energy). Not only does today’s insular, fixated oligarchy inhibit innovation and thus national prosperity, millions of our most talented, hardest working, less rich people won’t ever realize their potential—for their good and the general good.
Finally, until we reinforce the walls of our own house, domestic restraints will veto solutions to the great global elephant: climate change. Yes, that means re-channeling massive “defense” funding into “offensively” supporting Mother and Father earth. This “new” challenge extends the paramount obstacles that Martin Luther King encapsulated: stupid, unwinnable wars, racial discrimination, and unemployment/grossly unequal distribution of wealth.
To begin that quest, Democratic leaders can’t just make nice speeches: they must fully leverage the growing outrage towards the Trump Rampage and his great Lying Chaos Machine. We can’t save the best of America without focusing laser attention on the tectonic structural gaps the right is trying to exploit—and so far exposing itself more to self-incrimination, even disaster, than success. It’s hard to knock down a monumental structure centuries old. Fixing cracks are immensely easier than rebuilding from the rubble after a civil conflict.