I never thought there was much point in attempting to advise my Republican friends on political matters. But now I think they may be in more of a mood to listen than is usually the case.
In my lifetime, our politics has never been darker and uglier than it is today. Look no further than the presidency.
To begin to understand the ugliness, we have to appreciate the president’s situation. His once-upon-a-time personal attorney is in a federal prison for tax evasion, financial fraud and campaign finance violations. In his indictment, an “Individual One” was described as participating in and benefitting from those crimes but was not indicted because that individual is the president of the United States and Department of Justice policy does not allow indictment of a serving president. Rather, it directs complaints of high crimes and misdemeanors to Congress and the impeachment process.
For the president the logic is straightforward. If your political office is the only thing standing between you and the possibility of spending time with your ex-friend in the federal penitentiary, you do whatever you can to stay in office and out of jail. In the president’s case, he has no record to stand on, no skills for or interest in the job, and little understanding of the responsibilities and powers of the office. The easiest thing to do is to go ugly.
People refer to his supporters as “Trump’s base.” He has not discovered anything new. He has simply decided to exploit simple folk with old-fashioned demagoguery. Until Trump, most American politicians accepted some norms and limits on their appeals to the darkness that has always resided in the American electorate. Racism, misogyny, religious intolerance and homophobia have been present and recognized but, as they are rooted in hate and disrespect, most politicians would not appeal to them directly. What we now call dog whistle methods were developed that communicated intent without committing the deed of saying it outright.
Dog-whistle racists wrapped themselves in the flag, the Bible, conservatism, anti-communism and the whole host of more acceptable political symbols as cover for their appeal to the baser instincts at work in the some parts of the electorate. They never quite crossed the line but you knew what they meant.
Now comes Donald Trump, the TV clown and real estate man. Is he a racist? For the purpose of political analysis you can set that aside. His attitudes about race, as transparent as you may think they are, really don’t matter if your goal is to understand his political behavior.
He governs strictly by the ratings. Whatever a crowd wants, he will deliver it. It is the reverse of leadership. And mere dog-whistling would limit his reach. So he goes full bore.
Enlightened democratic leaders set a course that is above the crowd. They try to lead them to higher standards, goals and achievements. It is hard work. It requires pulling and steering. They have to educate, persuade and sell a passion for what is ideal, beautiful, difficult and, above all, possible.
Today I am reminded of President John F. Kennedy who set us on a course of exploration in 1962 with the words “We do it not because it is easy, but because it is difficult.” Leaders challenge and inspire. They find the desire for greatness that lives in every man and woman and they help to head us in that direction.
Demagogues find the bottom of your soul –its very darkest places – and feed it with lies and the hatred that they know will move your wretched being off the couch, from in front of the television, and down to the ballot box to invest the little bit of power you have in meeting their needs.
If you invest that small share of power in the demagogue, you hand over the little bit of power you have so they can do the dirty work for you.
That is where we are today. He is using the presidency as a tool for his criminal defense. Hence his affinity for leaders who govern without the constraints of democracy, constitution, and rule of law. They, like the president, have personal selfish agendas and they manipulate their political systems to achieve them. It is a cynical and dangerous business.
So, good Lake Jackson Republicans, how do we fix this? There aren’t enough Democrats to assure us that he can be removed from office, certainly not through the impeachment process and perhaps not even by the electoral process if we count on the traditional Democratic electorate and the highly undemocratic allocation of electoral votes.
So here is my advice. Hold your nose if you must, but vote for Democrats in 2020 from the top of the ticket to the bottom. Send your apologies to Senator John Cornyn and tell him how much you think he looks like someone who should be a United States Senator; however, lacking the courage to fill that role with honor you just could not see your way clear to vote for him again. After all, he wilts like steamed lettuce whenever a Trump tweet threatens. Courage is in short supply, particularly on the Republican side of the aisle in the Senate.
So join with us this year to make change. Take your party back by voting Democratic. You may choose to go back to voting Republican in 2022. But it will be your party again. Or, you may want to stay on board with the rest of us Democrats. You may find that your weight pulls the party more toward the center of the spectrum and you may be perfectly comfortable. In any case, you will find us a lot more fun to be with. We love and respect people.
Remember that this rampant ugliness has little to do with policy disputes or collusion or obstruction or even the non-indicted crimes alleged by the Southern District of New York. It is about the presidency being used as a criminal hideout. It’s time to stop it. Please join the cause.
Note: Garry Trudeau made the same argument in this morning’s Doonesbury panels (except for the advice to Republicans). See it here in the Washington Post.