A Politics to Reclaim America
We must repudiate Trump’s rule-by-resentment.
It was an unreal week. I learned that a whining phone call from President Chaos to Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto was not a hoax. I watched Jared Kushner sound like Gilbert Gottfried with help from John Oliver. I watched Martin Shkreli turn his fraud conviction into an odd celebration. I wrote a sonnet channeling Anthony Scaramucci in an update of The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus. I took refuge in a fantasy novel containing no references to a mobbed-up real estate developer and his campaign to destroy America. I heard our attorney general declare, “We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearances to sell out our country.” (That job belongs to the president.)
Trump and his crew, who trail him like remoras on a shark, are so desperate to deflect attention from Robert Mueller’s newly impaneled Washington grand jury that they demand another investigation of Hillary Clinton. (As former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger asks, “How long can they keep running against a retired grandmother?”) Here is America in twilight. Let us be clear on one thing: Trump can invade Mexico and slaughter its entire population before they will pay a single peso for his ridiculous wall.
I wonder if Trump is playing mind games with us by attacking his own allies while hiring generals to rein in the disorder he created. The Republican Senate is holding a series of pro forma sessions to block Trump from making recess appointments during August. Meanwhile, Trump went on a 17-day vacation. As Dorothy Parker said after Calvin Coolidge died, how could they tell?
The Justice Department’s search for leakers (which, to be honest, is not so different from efforts during the Obama administration) ignores questions of high treason to focus on turnstile jumping. The Leaker in Chief (if you’ll pardon the expression) spilled secrets in the Oval Office while boasting to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister. Here’s a new adage: “Loose tweets sink fleets.” But the only leaks Trump cares about are those that hurt him, which could be considered acts of patriotism.
“You can be building castles in the air that have no reference to reality,” says Charles Kesler of the Claremont Institute to the New York Times on the danger of assigning an ideology to Trump’s impulsive transactionalism. But cloud castles are not only the province of the white nationalists and isolationists who are using and being used by the forty-fifth president. Many on the left seem unwilling to vote for anyone who could actually get elected. They demand instant utopia instead of committing to the long, persistent engagement that produces reform.
Dealing with reality does not mean surrendering to the status quo but applying the leverage to create change. It requires connecting with others where they are, in order to chart a forward path together, and using public resources and mechanisms to help the many, not just the few. Diversity is a social reality, not a mere slogan. It requires cooperation and compromise.
Translating the anti-Trump resistance into congressional victories will be tough given Republican gerrymandering. Democrats can echo Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, whose main effort so far this year was trying to take healthcare away from millions. Even if Democrats retake the House, though, they won’t win the 67 Senate votes to remove Trump. But they could use Trump’s continuation in office to remind workers that he betrayed them by filling his cabinet with plutocrats and lied about stopping job exports.
A crucial task, if our country is to be governable, is repudiating Trump’s dysfunction and division. While confronting hard truths, we must appeal to our better angels.
What the fight ahead requires is inspiration like Obama’s, not calculation like Clinton’s. (Remember, one of them won the presidency twice while the other lost twice.) Democrats need a campaign slogan more resonant than “A Better Deal,” which is about as stirring as the small print in a pharmaceutical ad. To be effective, our message should reject Trump’s rule-by-resentment while conveying a positive vision. Here’s a suggestion: “Working for All of Us.”
It is time for a politics of addition.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. Email Richard