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What should Democrats and progressives do now?


This powerful Adam Serwer piece is very much worth reading in full. A few quotes:

Trump’s nationalist innovation is not taking pride in his country, supporting a principled non-interventionism, or even advocating strict enforcement of immigration laws. The only thing new Trump brings to the American nationalism of recent decades is a restoration of its old ethnic-chauvinist tradition. Conservative intellectuals cannot rescue nationalism from Trump, any more than they could rescue Goldwater from Jim Crow, because Trump’s explicit appeals to racial and religious traditionalism, and his authoritarian approach to enforcing those hierarchies, are the things that have bound conservative voters so closely to him. The failure of the conservative intelligentsia to recognize this is why it was caught so off-guard by Trump’s rise to begin with.

The argument that Omar’s criticisms of her adopted country for failing to live up to its stated ideals justify revoking her citizenship substantiates the very criticism she lodged. Trump has said, “If you hate our country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!” but his entire 2016 campaign was premised on the idea that many Americans not only are deeply unhappy, but also have every right to demand that things be better. That Trump’s supporters believe Omar’s sins justify her banishment, and Trump’s similar transgressions justify his presence in the White House, helps illustrate exactly what is going on here. Under Trumpism, no defense of the volk is a betrayal, even if it undermines the republic, and no attack on the volk’s hegemony can be legitimate, even if it is a defense of democracy.

I want to be very clear about what the country saw last night, as an American president incited a chant of “Send her back!” aimed at a Somali-born member of Congress: America has not been here before.

White nationalism was a formal or informal governing doctrine of the United States until 1965, or for most of its existence as a country. Racist demagogues, from Andrew Johnson to Woodrow Wilson, have occupied the White House. Trump has predecessors, such as Calvin Coolidge, who imposed racist immigration restrictions designed to preserve a white demographic majority. Prior presidents, such as Richard Nixon, have exploited racial division for political gain. But we have never seen an American president make a U.S. representative, a refugee, an American citizen, a woman of color, and a religious minority an object of hate for the political masses, in a deliberate attempt to turn the country against his fellow Americans who share any of those traits. Trump is assailing the moral foundations of the multiracial democracy Americans have struggled to bring into existence since 1965, and unless Trumpism is defeated, that fragile project will fail.

Serwer goes on to argue that, at this moment of genuine political and moral crisis, the leadership of the Democratic party is failing in both political and moral terms:

As the president’s declarations of immunity from oversight have grown more broad and lawless, the Democrats have slow-walked investigationsretreated from court battles, and unilaterally surrendered the sword of impeachment. They have only just begun to call witnesses from the Mueller inquiry, they have only just begun to challenge the president’s lawlessness in court, they have only just begun to hold Trump officials in contempt for their defiance of Congress’s constitutional prerogatives. This foot-dragging will leave them with little time to actually look into presidential abuses before campaign season begins, effectively forfeiting a massive political advantage, to say nothing of abdicating their constitutional duties. The leadership of the Democratic Party has shown more appetite for confronting and rebuking legislators representing the vulnerable communities Trump has targeted most often than it has for making the president mildly uncomfortable.

I don’t agree with all of Serwer’s criticisms of the congressional Democrats: in particular his claim that Democratic legislators have been “unable to pass a single piece of meaningful legislation that curtails Trump’s abuse of authority” is for obvious reasons an unfortunate example of Murc’s Law in action.

But that’s quibbling. Yes, there’s zero chance of removing Trump via the impeachment process. But Plan A at this point seems to be, hold on until November 2020, and hope that white supremacy and nascent fascism and the various anti-democratic strategies employed by Republicans aren’t enough to keep the white supremacists and nascent fascists in power.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Pelosi and Schumer are playing the long game, and keeping their powder dry until we’re closer to the moment of truth. But increasingly, the moment of truth seems to be now, or yesterday.

American liberal democracy is dying a not-so-slow death. Are we going to depend exclusively on our increasingly corrupt and unrepresentative electoral process, and our increasingly corrupt and feckless media, to save it?

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