In Part One I introduced my premise: GOP uses tactics against Democrats that mirror the behaviors of domestic abusers, creating a warped environment. In Part Two I gave examples of these tactics and in Part Three I described the ineffective response by Democrats. In Part Four is talked about how the media amplifies rather than evaluates GOP abuses, and how democrats need to recognize this dynamic. Today I will begin discussing how Democrats can move from a defensive to an offensive position.
Let's start with:
The Donald Trump Factor
Republican abuse culminated in the appalling presidency of Donald Trump. Trump and his fanatical base is the monster the GOP created but can’t control. The Trump-machine took the Republican abuse playbook, ratcheted it up to 11, and now alternates between turning it on Democrats and on the “Republican Establishment”. Republicans didn’t budget for that and the GOP/media-machine is sputtering.
During the Obama administration, having clear targets (President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton) kept the GOP leadership focused. But problems were festering outside the beltway. Republican obstruction pleased the base but didn’t solve problems affecting their lives, and media outlets like Breitbart News began attracting hard right Republicans. Other fissures, between evangelicals, libertarians, and “moderate” Republicans kept the party from finding a clear frontrunner during the Republican primaries. Trump squeaked through and the GOP leadership chose to back him (however reluctantly), with the hopes they could both manage him and enjoy a legislative windfall.
But Trump’s antics have exacerbated the preexisting cracks in the GOP monolith. Republican leaders are confronted daily by behaviors even they can’t support, and Trump keeps mangling Republican legislation as well as moves made by his own appointees. Republican leaders don’t know, from day to day, what they’re supposed to be for or against, and their justifications for Trump’s exploits are increasingly untenable. Trump’s campaign to delegitimize the media has created its own backlash and media disgust with Republican weaseling is at an all-time high.
Meanwhile Trump's administration motivated Democrats nationwide to resist, and citizen resistance stiffened the spines of Democratic leaders. It is the perfect time for a reboot.
Democrats as Champions
If Democrats can understand the abuse environment we're enmeshed in and reject enabling response patterns, we can transition from beleaguered defenders to champions for Americans.
We've always had Democratic fighters and Democratic victories but problems within the party weren't recognized. Crucially, on the economic front Democrats absorbed the beliefs conservatives spent years pumping into the body politic. Democrats had no competing think tanks, no ALEC writing legislation for state representatives nationwide. Economic policy offerings from both parties were filtered through conservative frames. The most fundamental conservative frame is monetary gains must be pushed upward versus shared. The result has been severe income inequality, widespread wage stagnation, and increasing financial insecurity for most Americans.
Republicans succeeded because they had a few simple ideas (trickle-down economics, deficits are bad, etc.) and they've pushed them, consistently, for decades. Democrats didn't promote any ideas consistently, didn't coordinate messaging, didn't create institutions to perform liberal-idea-research-and-development. Democrats mistakenly assumed Americans understood what Democrats stand for, understood the value of the New Deal, understood how democracies work. But all the while Republicans were actively undermining those assumptions.
We've done better on social issues, in part because activists drove and Democratic leaders followed. So while we’ve won many battles we’ve been losing the war. The combination of Republican single-mindedness and Republican abusiveness has been hugely successful in terms of offices won and legislation passed. If you measure success by positive effects on the country, however, the GOP victories are pyrrhic.
The problem has been Democrats' misreading of the terrain. While Democrats fought countless separate skirmishes the Republicans marched in lockstep across the land contaminating the political environment. Metaphorically, Democrats upheld the Geneva Conventions while Republicans discarded them. It is time to demand decent standards of political behavior.
Democrats must recapture the idea that we have a right to hold and act on our political beliefs without being demonized, threatened or coerced. We also have a right to vote, with the expectation our voting system(s) will be secure, fair, and protected from interference. We have a right to expect honesty and transparency from our elected and appointed leaders. We have a right to a fair playing field, where the rules are known and obeyed by everyone. We have a right to a seat at the table when policies that will affect us are being considered.
All citizens have these rights. In a healthy political environment people can present their positions without fear; debates can be passionate without being hostile, and leaders can work together to find optimal solutions to problems, blending the best elements of multiple viewpoints.
Republican abuses directly conflict with these rights, and that is the context through which they should be countered.
Next up: some specific messaging and tactical suggestions for Democratic office-holders and seekers, and activists, pundits, etc.