Sometimes a writer comes along and explains a shift that is happening within you that you were not fully conscious of until you read the piece. This happened to me last week.
From the election until last week, I was of the mindset that progressives and Democrats needed to tailor their Trump-era message and approach specifically to attract non-city voters, including the white working class that was drawn in by Trump’s message. I believed that we needed to emphasize an economic message over the usual liberal pieties that were nicely summed up by the Women’s March Unity Principles. I believed we needed to talk and campaign differently than the ways that just lost the last election–to go in a more Clintonian (Bill, not Hillary) political direction. To pitch a big tent. To reach out to people we disagree with. To tiptoe around sensitive cultural issues where we don’t see eye to eye with these “deplorables.”
While I still believe that to be necessary, the second week of the Trump presidency has made me realize that I was applying old thinking that no longer applies to the current political environment. Seeing the near-spontaneous protests erupt at the nation’s airports over Trump’s immigration ban from Muslim countries made me realize that there will be no tiptoeing around traditional Red-state/Blue-state issues because we are all–all of us–going to be sucked into a great maelstrom of Trump’s presidency. Pro-Trump and anti-Trump opposition will build, and alliances will be formed that will bear little resemblance to the old order. Also, I suspect that the anti-Trump opposition will have most of the country behind it before this is over.
Here are the key excerpts from the Ross Douthat column that made me realize this:
“So why the weekend frenzy, the screaming headlines, the surge of protest? Because of several features inherent to populism, which tend to undermine its attempts to govern no matter the on-paper popularity of its ideas.
First, populism finds its voice by pushing against the boundaries of acceptable opinion. But in the process it often embraces bigotries and extremisms that in turn color the reception of its policies….
Second, having campaigned against elites and experts and all their pomps and works, populists imagine that their zeal can carry all before it, that proceduralism and institutional knowledge are for losers and toadies and men with soft hands, and that a few guys in the White House can execute a major overhaul of a delicate system without bureaucratic patience or rhetorical finesse. … Then, finally, because populism thrives on its willingness to shatter norms, it tends to treat this chaos and blowback as a kind of vindication — a sign that it’s on the right track, that its boldness is meeting inevitable resistance from the failed orthodoxies of the past, and so on through a self-comforting litany. That makes it hard for populists to course correct, because they get stuck in a “the worse the better” loop, reassuring themselves that they’re making progress when actually they’re cratering.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the divide, the ascent of populism also creates an unusual level of solidarity among elites, who feel moved to resist on a scale that they wouldn’t if similar policies were pursued by normal political actors. Thus Trump, not even two weeks into his presidency, has already faced unusual pushback from the intelligence community, the Justice Department, the State Department and other regions of the bureaucracy, even as the media-entertainment complex unites against him on a scale unseen even in previous Republican administrations, and the Democratic Party is pressured into scorched-earth opposition before policy negotiations are even joined. These tensions ratcheted up over the weekend; it’s difficult to see how they ratchet down.
Before last week, I was uninterested in the calls to vote down Trump’s cabinet–because in normal politics a president should get to pick his team. Before last week, I was more interested in Democrats showing themselves willing to work with Trump–because in normal politics this is how you show yourself to be reasonable, and it is how you can get some of your party’s ideas into the other party’s legislation. But now it is clear that normal politics will be of little consequence no matter how carefully it is played–it will be overwhelmed by Trump’s actions. I now feel that “unusual level of solidarity” Douthat refers to, and I am ready to resist everything. Not because of policy, not because of political tactics. But because all that Trump stands for must be opposed on moral grounds. His vision of our country–its institutions and traditions and laws–is a hologram twisted through the lens of his narcissism. The policies of his administration, so far as we can now tell, will represent the anti-globalist, bigoted views of Steve Bannon. We can critique the policies and Bannon’s ideas as wrong and destructive in the same way we have always waged political arguments. But Trump’s mental state will take precedence over all–he will insist on it. And this is the smartest reason to resist him at every turn–because he will ultimately lose the entire country’s respect and support. Everyone, from the white working class to the transgender activist, will pile on. We might as well start now and get this over with. Resist. Reconciliation and cooperation can come later, after the boil is lanced from our politics and normal politics can resume. Let the message ring from every mountain top and every town hall: fuck this guy.