October 20, 2018

Winning with Donald Trump

On the evening of January 20, 2009—  as Barack Obama was still dancing at his Inaugural Ball—- the House Republican leadership met in secret at The Caucus Room, an upscale D.C restaurant.  According to historian Robert Draper, fourteen prominent Republicans, including the once and future Speakers of the House Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan, pledged to do anything and everything to obstruct and block the new President Obama on all legislation.  As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell later put it in his infamous comment, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one term president.”

Democrats were apoplectic.  Obama’s election was breathtaking, historic and groundbreaking.  He was not only the first African American elected to the nation’s highest office, he was swept into office on a tide of hope, inspiration, and progressive dreams.  Democrats knew there would be tough battles ahead, but they expected at the very least an opportunity to act upon the mandate that had swept them into the White House and Congress.  Republicans were rightly pilloried for cynical, even cruel politics.  And, indeed, the obstructive tactics and stonewalling by Congressional Republicans dogged President Obama through the entirety of his eventual eight year term.

Flash forward to this week.  And how the tables have turned.  For Democrats, last week’s convincing victory over Hillary Clinton was not just devastating.  It was horrifying.  Most Democrats with a long political memory will tell you that the defeat has no seeming counterpart.  Donald Trump’s campaign of unrelenting hostility toward women, Hispanics, the disabled, and his active courting of the most racist and anti-semitic underbelly of our society knows no precedent in a major party candidate.  His lack of knowledge of world affairs is astounding.  His temperment seems to be that of a petulant teenager.  Yet he vanquished not only 16 fellow Republican hopefuls— all far more qualified than he— but also perhaps the most qualified individual ever to seek the presidency, Hillary Clinton.  The result was so confounding it left most Democrats, and even many Republicans, speechless.

Yet he won.  And this week, the immediate impulse among many of the the more than half of the country that voted against him (Clinton won the popular vote) is to take to the streets, to rage against the machine, to hurl even greater invective not only against the president-elect, but to the millions who supported him.  My liberal-leaning Facebook feed reads like a virtual call to arms, brimming with anger, pleading for the masses to join together, rise up, and destroy the looming danger that now threatens our republic.

Let’s all take a breath.  Democrats were right in 2009 to be outraged that their winning candidate was not given even a moment’s chance to succeed in office.  Hillary Clinton was right this week when she urged Americans to “give him a chance to lead.”  President Obama was on the mark when he counseled the nation that “we are all now rooting for his success.”  These weren’t just talking points— this was leadership at the highest, most enlightened level.  We owe it to our nation— and to ourselves— to heed the call.

So, what to do?  First, let’s wait.  Wait for President-elect Trump to make the first outrageous statement, or indecent proposal, before we begin piling on.  There surely will be moments appropriate for outrage, where protest is a moral imperative, where it’s time to take to the streets.  But as insane as Trump’s ascension to the presidency seems to many of us, it has happened.  Let’s give him a chance.

Second, Trump facies himself— seemingly above all else— as a winner.  It has been that self perception, rather than any drive for public service, that appears to have driven his quest for success.  So let’s help and support Donald Trump to “win” in office, in ways that are both consistent with his agenda, and even that contribute to the common good.  Here are a few suggestions:

Immigration:   Trump has already essentially conceded that he won’t manage to build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it.  But there’s nothing particularly offensive about improving border security in general.  Allow President Trump to divert greater resources to improving the physical barriers preventing illegal immigration, and let him call that a victory.  This is not going to be the Administration that provides a more humane, mutually productive path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.  That will just have to come later.

Refugees:  The Trump Administration will likely curb the admission of refugees from Syria.  It’s a humanitarian travesty, but that was a pivotal portion of his platform.  Allow President Trump to upgrade the “vetting” process for admitting refugees in general, and he can call that a victory.  Nothing particularly wrong or offensive about upgrading our ability to keep terrorists out of the country.

Foreign entanglements: Trump has raged against the “unfair” arrangements we have with NATO and our East Asian allies.  His comments have rattled our allies, and caused serious uneasy ripples across the world.  Encourage Trump to divert his focus from these strategic alliances— which have been pivotal in ensuring world peace since World War II— and turn it on the United Nations.  It is the UN that has seriously lost its focus— the recent UNESCO decision denying the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount is a case in point.  Focusing the generally unhealthy isolationist strain of Trump’s thinking on the UN would cause far less damage than tinkering with the alliances that are so vital to maintaining world peace.

Finally, it may be time for us liberals and Democrats to look inward for a moment.  Half the country seems enraged against us, blithely ignoring our pleas to see Trump’s lack of knowledge, curiosity, empathy, his xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and dog whistles for anti-semitism for what they were. The more we wailed, the more they delighted in ignoring us.  Why?  Can it really be that half the country is completely idiotic?

No.  Motivations vary, but if you listen to the voices, what you will hear is that people are tired of liberal “elites.”  They are tired of being lectured to by a liberal media, they are tired of having their country taken away from them.  If liberals in this country wish to further pursue our inclusive, tolerant, diverse agenda (and the pendulum will eventually swing back), we will need to do so in a manner that isn’t so relentlessly dismissive of hard working, traditional Americans across the political spectrum.  Many of us spent years enthralled with the comedy of Jon Stewart, using him as the articulate mouthpiece of or deepest political beliefs.  Perhaps in the future it may be wise to ease off on the relentless belittlement of our fellow citizens, and focus instead on the true conservative institutional targets of our ire (Fox News, Republican elites, etc.).  Many, many of our neighbors voted for Donald Trump.  They can’t be dismissed or disrespected with impunity.

Elections have consequences.  Donald Trump will be our president over the next four years, and we liberals need to live with that.  Conservative justices will be appointed to the Supreme Court, progressive policies will be curbed, and the Affordable Care Act will likely be largely gutted.  But this country needs to be governed, and its time for the Democrats to reject the obstructionist tactics employed by Republicans from Day One of the Obama Presidency.  Work with President Trump, allow this country to be covered responsibly for the next four years, and in 2020, we will live to fight another day.