Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Dec. 29, 30 or 31, 2016
First Lady Michelle Obama's rallying cry for progressives has been, “When they go low, we go high.” But after enduring eight years of Republican obstructionism going so low it bordered on treason, Democrats may see a Trump administration and a GOP-majority Capitol Hill ahead and concede that refusing to cooperate in governing may have resulted in historically low approval ratings for Congress but also few negative consequences at ballot boxes.
The Trump White House looks to be a weird blend of billionaire insiders and dangerous nutjobs, but the GOP victories in Washington and many states in November essentially rewarded Republicans’ obstruction and propaganda. That not only betrayed decades of civility, but put party politics above patriotism, and confused many voters enough to cast ballots against their own interests (like working-class folks believing Trump would “drain the swamp,” or Red State beneficiaries of Obamacare or Medicaid who face an uncertain future without such programs).
In their boldest betrayal, the Republican-majority Senate refused to even hold hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination, Merrick Garland, which could result in one of Trump’s right-wing zealots filling the vacancy. Dozens of federal judges’ seats were never confirmed, either.
The venomous destruction since Inauguration 2009 included judicial paralysis, budget brinkmanship and legislative stalemates, but also a series of distracting stunts that served figurative red meat to the right-wing media echo chamber for years, from Benghazi on Capitol Hill to bathroom prohibitions at the state level. At the crossroads of state and federal manipulation, the Supreme Court’s weakening of voting rights helped legitimize some states’ gerrymandering, which carved up and isolated citizens not identified as part of Republicans’ base. So Americans who tended to vote Democratic were “walled in” in urban areas, recognizing that higher populations could means greater opposition.
During the George W. Bush years, Democrats worked with Republicans, approving John Roberts as the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, and a few steps toward reforms in education and immigration. But when Americans elected Obama, such compromise was scorned, reason dismissed, and governing sacrificed for Machiavellian cynicism. Now, there may be a sense that progressives – even a few Democrats – have tired of surrendering.
Other Democrats are trying to rise above the Electoral College victory of an incompetent showman, recommending he be “given a chance,” a signal, perhaps, of a willingness to be respectable, reasonable and compliant. But some may choose to learn from years of Republicans stonewalling progress and to show that there’s a consequence to obstructionism, that they’ll exact a penalty for unpatriotic hindrances.
Should “Just say ‘No!’ ” become a Democratic strategy?
After all, at the GOP convention, Trump said, “I alone can fix it.”
Have at it, then.
Fix it without confirmation of Cabinet appointees or judges, without repeals of laws or maybe budgets, unless some quid pro quo is attached.
Uncomfortable? Sure. But as voters made clear last month, it’s as likely as not that obstructionists could prevail in 2018 anyway.
Instead of being collaborators – a 21st century Vichy France – Democrats could lead a Resistance, and could do so with proactive plans for Medicare for All, tax reforms, better wages, restoration of labor rights, action to address climate change and much more.
Again, uncomfortable? Unpleasant? You bet. But it may beat the alternative expressed so well by the terrific First Lady. Intelligence and poise, class and compassion were sapped by an energy-draining struggle to achieve basics (judges!) much less needed reforms.
The next few years may demand such a lousy choice: losing the Republic on principles and with character, or protecting the Constitution and Americans’ liberties by stooping to conquer, if in shame.