A few thoughts a year into the worst presidency I hope we will ever see.
1) The most important thing, in my view, to understand about Donald Trump’s worldview is the racist resentment. That runs through his advisors and through the nearly the whole Republican Party as they fall into line. Thus his new ad released today that is full-on race-baiting fascist. Lee Atwater nods approvingly from Hell. It does make me laugh that he had a reputation as a “deal-maker” which always transparent bullshit, but he’s so very, very bad at it. However, this racism is why I think this is likely to be a very long government shutdown, quite possibly more than a month. Ultimately, one of two things have to happen: Democrats cave on Dreamers or Republicans cave on Dreamers. What do you think the likelihood of either happening? The former is possible. The latter? They would drive the country into the ground to Make America White Again. This is simply the reality of this administration.
2) People need quit focusing so much on Trump’s base, particularly in comments here. You know what will alienate Trump from his base? Nothing. Well, maybe if he became an anti-racist. But that’s it. That base will always be there. Here’s the thing though–they always have been. These were the people that supported the Confederacy. These were the people that loved Joe McCarthy. These are the people who thought the kids at Kent State deserved to die. There are lots of people who don’t care about democracy. At all. If you really want to know what to do with them, start by talking to your racist uncle you can’t stand at Thanksgiving. If you can convince him, then you have part of an answer. If you can’t, well.
3) But I honestly wouldn’t worry about it too much. It’s scary, but again, these people have always been there. Far more important are the masses of low-information voters. What’s worrisome here is that because most of them are anti-politics, someone like Trump who also seems anti-politics is appealing. But that trick only works once. There’s overwhelming evidence that they are moving away from Trump and we are seeing this now in special election after special election, as well as in Virginia and New Jersey. But what needs to happen is to motivate those regular people, as well as our own base. The crazies? They are lost to us and they aren’t really worth talking to.
4) Another theme that has to die is that “Democrats have an off-year turnout problem.” That’s not true. It’s that ruling parties have an off-year turnout problem. Various factors determine how serious of a problem this is, and these various factors are going to lead to the slaughter of Republicans in 2018. Stating this fact does not mean we should be complacent. It’s simply an observation of what is already happening.
5) While the defining down of terms like “resistance” and “revolution” is annoying to me as a historian of the left, there’s no question that people have really stepped up to the plate in unprecedented ways, especially in running for office. This is great. The question we have going forward, no matter what happens, is how to sustain this interest and activism. I still maintain that Obama made a huge mistake by not attempting to mobilize his supporters who loved him in 2009 into doing something active. Running for office at the local level would have been a great move. But he very much did not, nor did he pay attention to state and local party building, which looking back was one of his very biggest errors.
6) Donald Trump and his team are absolutely terrible at presidential politics. It’s not just that they have no idea how to govern. It’s that they think all that matters is the Republican base that voted him in. So they alienate constituency and constituency totally unnecessarily and then don’t care. It’s almost as if Trump is daring Florida to never vote for Republicans again, between doing little to help Puerto Rico which means more Puerto Ricans move there and then the terrible comments about Haitians, many of whom live in Florida. The indifference toward suburban voters, the intentional alienation of anyone even remotely moderate, etc. They have no idea how to place themselves in any position to move forward or get re-elected. I think they believe it didn’t matter in 2016 and it won’t matter in 2020. But the evidence is very much not in their favor, as the polls and the special elections suggest.
7) Electorally, I feel confident going forward. But I don’t feel much better about the future of the nation than I did a year ago. If anything, Republicans have doubled down on the authoritarianism and racism that were embracing then. Between the courts, the politicization of every government appointee, the destruction of norms, and the inability to pass even basic legislation, we are going a long ways toward real destabilization. Moreover, no matter how badly Trump may get blown out in 2020 (if he does; remember, a lot of people really like racism and misogyny), who sees Donald Trump going gently into the good night? I do not. It would not shock me if there was some attempt at a coup or quasi-coup in 2021. I don’t say that to be histrionic. But this is where sizable sections of the Republican Party are at. Earlier this week, I saw some smart tweet noting that when a deeply committed party finds their policies horribly unpopular, they don’t change the policies, they reject democracy. This is your modern Republican Party. What becomes of it is a huge unknown. All we can do is fight it. Luckily, there are many many millions of Americans who are also disgusted and outraged and are doing something about it.
8) In 2018, let’s all do a little more to fix this country. Voting yes, but writing letters to the editor, talking to our families, giving money, showing up to a protest or rally (and yay to Women’s March 2!), or whatever. That’s all we have.