I, like many of my fellow Democrats, have been incredibly heartened to see the groundswell of political activity in recent weeks and months around protecting key progressive accomplishments like the Affordable Care Act and expanded LGBT protections across the country. Even more satisfying is the fact that these protests, political actions, and phone banks haven’t simply been limited to so-called “blue” states and “blue” districts (those labels mean very little to me—it’s about approach and style, not monolithic politics), rather the energy has transcended geography, empowering voices from Anchorage to Miami, from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. While ultimately I do believe that we as Democrats have far more to offer working people and historically marginalized communities, the surprising aspect of the recent demonstrations is how soon many of the policies we championed over the last decade have engendered genuine value in the lives of even folks who were initially skeptical. I, unlike some of my fellow partisans and Obama alumni, don’t particularly mind that a small constituency of folks are adamant about repealing Obamacare, but will cut you where you stand if you touch their ACA or state-run exchange; that’s less about policy, more about branding. I’m fine with that.
This newfound energy, which has often been lazily compared to the corporate-funded Tea Party movement in 2009 and 2010, promises to manifest itself in spades during the upcoming off-year and mid-term elections. I have no doubt that New Jersey and Virginia will elect Democratic governors this year and I’m increasingly convinced that the 2018 Congressional midterm elections will yield promising results for Democrats as well. Those political dynamics are encouraging to progressives like myself who know that the long-game—namely, our ability to protect and solidify any progress we made during the last administration—is crucial to our ability to make the case to the American people, at the federal, state, and local levels, that our solutions are real, meaningful, and are the most likely to help working people make the leap into the middle class. So yes, as a partisan, knowing that the progressive base is activated is vital.
But as I have said in the past, we must distinguish between our progressive outrage at conservative policies from our American outrage at unAmerican policies. While it is important to protect the gains made during the last 8 years, the political crisis the United States is facing in the immediate present has to be addressed first and aggressively: the current occupant of the White House poses an existential threat to freedom and democracy around the world.
There is no greater threat to the United States—to the world, in fact—right now than the administration of President Donald J. Trump. Our shared values are at stake. Our democratic freedoms are at stake. And most depressingly, our role in the world, as the leader of all free people, is in dire jeopardy. And that—for lack of a better word—trumps every other priority of progressives, conservatives, and everyone in between.
President Trump’s recent problems concerning Russian espionage, business conflicts of interest, the mishandling of classified information, and his aggressive and systematic attempts to undermine the free press in this country are but the warning shots of an administration that is becoming increasingly antagonistic with the foundational pillars of liberal democracy. The fact that the unknowns about Donald Trump—primarily, his business dealings and personal finances—are being fiercely protected from the very people who hired him and pay his salary (us) only reinforce a hardening perception that our president is hostile towards the rule of law, ignorant of American history and its values, clueless as to how our government works, and annoyed by the idea of accountability and transparency.
Understand: Donald J. Trump—whether you voted for him or not—is now in control of America’s intelligence apparatus. He can order secret drone strikes to target any non-citizen abroad he deems an enemy combatant. Unfortunately, precedent shows that he may also be able to target citizens who also meet that description to him. He can order the tax returns of any American he chooses (seriously, that’s a power of the President). He alone can initiate a nuclear strike. In short, Donald Trump literally has the keys to life or death for everyone in America and beyond. Donald Trump is the most powerful man in the world.
So there’s no shortage of urgency here. He’s a dangerous man who is increasingly being exposed as compromised and corrupt. He doesn’t seek to make anyone’s life better, but instead to enrich himself. In less than a month, his senior staff has already committed egregious ethics violations while consistently and blatantly lying on national television with such regularity it has normalized the concept of a White House that you can’t trust. His national security adviser, Lt. General Michael Flynn, stepped down this week not because he potentially committed treason or even because he lied about it, but rather because the media found out. Think about that: our president was fine having a compromised and potentially treasonous senior aide being the sole conduit of national security and foreign affairs information to him but for the pesky news media shining a light on it.
The question isn’t whether President Trump will commit a high crime and misdemeanor—the bar for the House of Representatives filing articles of impeachment. The question is when. And it’s quite possible that question has been answered in the past tense.
So while, yes, we need to organize and demonstrate in support of quality, neighborhood public schools; for clean air, clean waters, and a healthy planet; for universal and affordable healthcare for all people; for women’s rights; for LGBT rights; for immigrant rights; for worker’s rights… We need to also make a case to the wider American electorate that goes beyond our progressive principles. We know there is an overwhelming majority of Americans who reject Trumpism, nationalism, and whatever other -ism you can apply to our current president’s brand of political hate and many of those people may not agree with us on education; that’s OK. They may not agree with us on raising the minimum wage; that’s OK. They may not agree with us on criminal justice reform, climate change, healthcare, or even women’s reproductive rights; that’s OK. Those battles have been and will be fought on the civil, but spirited political ground that has always been a hallmark of American democracy. You win those battles at the ballot box and you fight them in the field of our public discourse, in our colleges, and between neighbors.
But our union is at stake. And that requires a non-partisan, overwhelming American majority united by our historical and shared values to organize and pressure Congress to either hold Donald Trump accountable or facilitate the ascension of President Mike Pence. We need to be prepared to organize around the idea of impeachment.
I’m not calling on it now. I don’t know that there’s enough there there yet to make it palatable. Moreover, impeachment is not something that should be wielded lightly or casually. But the bigger fight ahead of us is the fight for the soul of our country. And that is a fight that will require us to unite around the values we know we have in common, regardless of whether you’re a rural farmer, Midwestern factory worker, or coastal “elite.” I get that this is a unique opportunity for Democrats and progressives. But we also need to be willing to set aside certain priorities should the moment call for it to stand up for democracy and freedom.
But we need to be prepared to put pressure on Democratic and Republican legislators alike and that coalition has to be bipartisan. Congresspeople need to see faces they normally count on as allies telling them to do the right thing. In the gerrymandered political reality we live in, many Republicans are inclined to dismiss anything that seems progressive or Democratic because—by and large—their seats have been designed to be as noncompetitive as possible. This means that should the day come when those articles must be filed, we will need Republican support to make it happen. As long as our rallying cries are strictly progressive in nature, weak leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will continue to obfuscate accountability, for themselves, for their caucus, and for the president. This is going to be a battle that simply can’t be won along party lines. If America is the country we all know it to be, we have to speak with one voice in rejecting the cynical, hateful “solutions” being offered by Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and the global nationalist movement.
Democrats, don’t lose history trying to win the moment. Our country is counting on us to get this one right.