What Congressional Democrats Should Do—And How to Get them to Do It

What Democratic Congresspeople Should Do

The debate about how far Democrats should go in imitating McConnell’s mindless obstruction strategy continues: Why Democrats need to fight Donald Trump from the moment he takes office. The article gets into the weeds about the merits and demerits of Trump’s inchoate infrastructure plan, and about the public perceptions that arise from cooperation versus fighting.

For what it’s worth, and that’s maybe not much, Aardvark’s simplistic view is that progressives should (1) see whether Trump’s proposal on infrastructure, or on anything else, actually has merit, or can be negotiated to a point that it is worth passing, and then (2) do the right thing, whatever that turns out to be.

The basis for this simplistic approach? (1) Doing the right thing for the people is better than doing the wrong thing. And (2) in a situation where cynicism about the political process is already ingrained in the populace, it is unwise to add to that cynicism by doing the wrong thing now in the name of a better right thing tomorrow.

How Progressives Should Get Democratic Congresspeople to do it

How to Make Your Congressman Listen to You

Thanks once again to Vasari, who advises that he follows Emily Ellsworth on Twitter. (As to Aardvark, he twerks not, neither does he tweet. He presses words on WordPress.)

 

The Difference between Donald Trump and George Wallace

Aardvark’s good friend Vasari reminds him that we have seen this movie before. In fact, the two of us saw it together in the 1960s.

But there is this difference: George Wallace knew that he needed forgiveness. From the Washington Post, March 17, 1995:

In the annals of religious and political conversions, few shiftings were as unlikely as George Wallace’s. In Montgomery, Ala., last week, the once irrepressible governor – now 75, infirm, pain-wracked and in a wheelchair since his 1972 shooting – held hands with black southerners and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

What Wallace overcame is his past hatred that made him both the symbol and enforcer of anti-black racism in the 1960s. On March 10, Wallace went to St. Jude’s church to be with some 200 others marking the 30th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march.

It was a reaching-out moment of reconciliation, of Wallace’s asking for – and receiving – forgiveness. In a statement read for him – he was too ill to speak – Wallace told those in the crowd who had marched 30 years ago: “Much has transpired since those days. A great deal has been lost and a great deal gained, and here we are. My message to you today is, welcome to Montgomery. May your message be heard. May your lessons never be forgotten.”

In gracious and spiritual words, Jo\seph Lowery, a leader in the original march and now the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, thanked the former separatist “for coming out of your sickness to meet us. You are a different George Wallace today. We both serve a God who can make the desert bloom. We ask God’s blessing on you.”

As the Rough Beast Slouches toward Bethlehem, Take His Statements both Seriously AND Literally

Marcus Borg, the liberal Christian scholar, says that you can take the Bible seriously or you can take it literally, but you can’t do both. He advises adoption of the former approach.

Recently, speaking of Trump, Salena Zito has written in the Atlantic that “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally”—meaning that his supporters have come to believe that he will do great things for them, but understand the hyperbole as hyperbole, and forgive it.

I suppose that may be an accurate statement about the thinking process of many Trump voters, maybe the majority of them. But there is a high risk that, in so thinking, they have made a catastrophic misjudgment.

We will know more as the transition process unfolds. As I write, grossly unqualified people are apparently being considered seriously for high positions in diplomacy and the military. Right now, along with Charles Lane, I am sorry to say that I take Trump’s desire to smash the international order both very literally and very seriously.

This is not a happy conclusion. But progressives gain nothing when they forget that denial is not just a river in Egypt.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

If You Don’t Know the Causes of a Terrible Problem, Then You Probably Can’t Fix It

Whatever Hillary’s defects, Trump’s voters exhibited horrifically bad judgment in viewing him as preferable to her. Paul Waldman admirably catalogues the reasons why, in The Unpersuadables. Having done so, Waldman concludes that “racial, ethnic, and religious hatred was the foundation on which the Trump campaign was built.”

Well, no doubt white identity was one foundation of Trump’s campaign.

The Waldman piece may usefully be contrasted with Pankaj Mishra, writing in the New Yorker on The Anti-Elite, Post-Fact Worlds of Trump and Rousseau, which places great emphasis on economic, class, and educational resentment.

My own hypothesis is that the main immediate cause of the Trump voters’ massive failure of judgment was the loathing toward Hillary that had come to possess them.

Whatever the right answer—or rather, answers—may be, they likely will not be discovered by pundicts articulately contemplating their navels. We need some social science, folks

Is Jonathan Chait Right about Democratic Cooperation on Infrastructure?

For some time now, I have found Jonathan Chait, who writes for New York magazine, one of our most insightful pundits. I adhere to that view, though I cannot agree with the thrust of two recent columns: How the Loyal Opposition Will Work in Trump’s America and Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi Have a Plan to Make President Trump Popular.

The question Chait addresses is whether Democrats ought to involve themselves with, and support, Trump’s plans for massive new spending on infrastructure. (That’s assuming the project as ultimately adopted is appropriate public policy—not fundamentally marred by poorly conceived efforts to involve private capital.)

Chait trenchantly expatiates on the hypocrisy of those who oppose public spend in Democratic administrations only to fall in love with inflationary deficit spending when Republicans take office. He enlarges on how Republican opposition to everything Obama proposed helped to keep their own constituents in poverty, and primed to vote for “change” in 2016. He eloquently argues that allowing a feeling of bipartisanship to grow could tend toward legitimizing that which ought to be illegitimate.

I believe these are all fair arguments, with much to commend them.

But, in the end, aren’t we all better if progressives just do the right thing?

If (and it may be a big if) Trump can live with an infrastructure proposal similar to that offered by Obama—and rejected by McConnell and his cynical posse—wouldn’t a mirror image cynicism on our part simply lead ever wider segments of the public to shout, “A plague on both your houses”?

Wouldn’t mirror image cynicism just reinforce whatever authoritarian tendencies Trump may exhibit?