Monday, February 20, 2017
THESE ARE AGAIN THE TIMES THAT TRY MEN'S SOULS
Where is Thomas Paine when you need him? We certainly need someone like him today. Our system and our values are under attack by domestic forces as never before since the Civil War. It would appear that this is not the view only of progressives, but of thinking conservatives as well, i.e., David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Robert Kagan, et al. But we have wallowed enough; the time has come to put the recent election itself behind us and prepare for the next one.
There may be no Thomas Paine around today, but there are infinitely more means of reaching the people today then there were in his time. It will take a concentrated effort; in fact, given the news cycle today, a daily effort.
First, Trump and his stooges (although he himself may be Bannon's stooge or puppet) must be confronted on every issue. The attack must be continuous and unrelenting. They must be put on the defensive on a regular basis. There is no room to work together with them. That is not their intention. They are destroyers, not governors. Their primary goal is to impose their will by taking down everything that represents evidence of anyone else's will. In a way not unlike the destruction of symbols of prior societies by ISIS in Palmyra, only worse. There it is only stones; here it is living social, economic and moral institutions and ideas fundamental to our history and present society. As evil as ISIS is, Trumpism is far more dangerous. His Administration's present policies, if you can call them that, are dangerous enough on their merits, but, perhaps more importantly, each success they achieve will only encourage them to reach further. That is an added reason to oppose them every step of the way, starting with a filibuster of Trump's nomination of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court..
The people who voted for Trump have been duped. That should be the approach, although not in such explicit terms. It is not enough to attack Trump and his claque personally, although there is much justification for that, but it must be brought home to the populace that the Administration's programs will not be for their benefit or result in improving their situations; in fact, just the opposite. It needs to be demonstrated that these actions will actually be detrimental to America's "greatness" in the eyes of the rest of the world, and will weaken America's position, both tangibly, e.g., economically, politically and strategically, and intangibly, e.g., morally. What Trump and his minions totally fail to understand is that it is that moral image, which they seem intent on destroying, that gives us any claim to be primus inter pares. His policies for making "America First" likely will have just the opposite effect.
Second, What is needed is the equivalent of the British shadow cabinet. The Democrats should designate someone as a counterpart to each cabinet member and member of Trump's policy team to comment on each program or statement announced by each cabinet member and policy maker or his or her spokesperson, and in each case to respond and propose the Democrats' own program to deal with that particular issue or explain why the present policy is preferable to any proposed changes. Such designated persons should take the initiative in proposing their own programs. To make this effective, each designee must have the authority to speak for the Party and a staff to support him or her. To coordinate this effort, there will need to be someone who will be the equivalent of the opposition party leader in the parliamentary system. This will require a cohesiveness and consistency which we are not used to in American politics and particularly in the Democratic Party, but these are unusual times which call for creative and imaginative measures. Perhaps the minority leaders of each house of Congress could share this responsibility, or maybe designate someone like Joe Biden for this role who would consult with Schumer and Pelosi.
The critical themes should be (a) how Trump's policies will (i) not help the people who voted for him, and (ii) in fact hurt them, and (b) the Democrats' alternative. In addition, a few digs at Trump on a regular basis won't hurt, although this should not be the main thrust of the attack. Nevertheless, he is so thin-skinned and insecure (yes, that's where it all comes from) that he will strike out with his absurd tweets (as he is already doing) and eventually people will finally catch on that they have a fool and impostor as President. The more he says, the worse he looks, and even the gullible have their limits.
The public should be constantly reminded that Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes; that he has no mandate; and that on many if not all substantive issues a majority of the American public are opposed to his positions. This is the case on abortion, gun regulation, the environment and global warming, gay marriage, mass deportation of undocumented immigrants and health insurance. When the issues are characterized broadly as small government, government mandates, over- regulation and individual freedom, the public in knee-jerk fashion may be supportive of Trump and the Republicans, but when issues are presented in specific terms that directly affect individuals the outcome is different. The Democrats need to keep emphasizing this opposition to Trumpism. Democrats need to frame the issues better than they have in the past. Some examples of popular support for Democratic policies in recent polls, as reported by Moyers & Company:
Health care reform - while respondents are split roughly 50/50 on repealing Obamacare, 58% supported a third option, replacing it with a federally funded health care system providing insurance for all Americans;
Unions - 58% of respondents said they approve of labor unions, and 72% said unions should have either more influence than they now have or at least the same amount;
Campaign finance reform - 77% of the public supports limits on campaign spending;
Climate change and renewable energy - 64% are at least a fair amount worried about climate change; 59% believe that the effects have already begun; 65% in one poll believe human activity causes climate change (in another poll, only 48%); 80% support solar panel and wind turbine farms; a majority opposed every other potential energy source: offshore drilling, nuclear power plants, fracking and coal; 61% said companies should be required to reduce carbon emissions and 78% support air pollution-regulations;
Abortion - 56% believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases;
Gay marriage and LGBT rights - 61%believe gay marriage should be legal, and by a narrow margin most Americans believe transgender people should be able to use the public bathroom of the gender they identify with;
Undocumented immigrants - 84% support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Only 33% supported building a wall along the US-Mexico border (among Republicans, 62%, but 76% also supported a path to citizenship);
Higher minimum wage and free child care - support of roughly 60%.
This doesn't mean that Democrats should ignore the economic issues of jobs, economic inequality, consumer protection and financial regulation. Contrary to the perception that Trump prevailed on the basis of those types of issues, 2016 exit poll data show that Hillary Clinton won voters who said the economy was the most important issue by 11 points, 52-41. Democrats can't afford to lose those voters.
There also needs to be a full time team of fact checkers that is responsible for reminding the public constantly that Trump bases his positions on alternative facts, also known as outright lies and distortions. The actual facts that are relevant to the policy issues and of which the public is uninformed, either willfully or otherwise, have to be publicized repeatedly. For example, the number of persons who will lose health insurance coverage if Obamacare is cancelled, the fact that Mexicans represent less than half of undocumented immigrants and that the numbers are running the other way with more leaving than coming, that illegal immigrants commit less crimes than citizens, that undocumented immigrants in large part only take jobs that citizens won't take, that imposing hardship on the Mexican economy will likely increase illegal immigration from Mexico, that discouraging birth control will lead to an increase in abortions, the number of accidental deaths and suicides from guns compared to deaths from criminal use, the fact that a majority of police favor more gun regulation, that the recent immigration ban from our "so-called" President will increase the terrorist threat, not reduce it, that the number of deaths from Muslim terrorists since 9/11, according to one source, is 123 (none by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from the seven countries targeted by our "so-called" President), compared to a total of more than 230,000 killings by gang members, drug dealers, angry spouses, white supremacists, psychopaths, drunks, domestic terrorists (Aurora, Charleston, Newtown, Colorado Springs, Oklahoma City, Columbine, the latter two before 9/11) and others, clear-cut data relating to global warming caused by human activities, the actual increase in domestic manufacturing production over the last several years, such inconvenient facts as the rust belt losing jobs to the South and not always overseas, the correlation of the demise of unions with loss of worker rights and stagnation of compensation, decreases in air and water pollution due to environmental regulations, how the income tax proposal will benefit mostly the very wealthy, how the border tax with Mexico will increase prices of products that are imported into the US, how rejecting TPP is a gift to China, that we already have extreme vetting of immigrants and refugees from the Middle East, the distinction between legal and illegal immigration, etc.
Trump and Bannon ultimately base their programs on fear, but many of the sources of that fear are virtually nonexistent or de minimis. This needs to be demonstrated to the public. Democracy without an informed electorate is no democracy at all. There will always be the willfully uninformed, and they certainly made their presence felt in the last election. But the Democrats did not do a good job of getting their message across. Some voters are not interested - the "deplorables", but others are reachable. With the Republicans in control of both the House and the Senate and the White House, they will be able to set the agenda. Thus it is all the more important for the Democrats to make sure that voters in the next election know what they stand for.