Since the 2016 campaigns, when CNN and other mainstream media began to cover every move and utterance by Donald Trump, his role in American politics has served as a black hole in the national and global space. “Black Hole” is a term of science referring to an area in space with such large gravitational power that nothing, not even light, can escape.
Looking at Trump’s influence, no matter how much information goes in, the truth does not come out. Trump repeatedly demonstrates his lack of finesse, , incoherence, ignorance of history, ego run wild, failure to grasp science and lack of empathy for anyone other than the very, very rich. His silence about the attack by Erdogan’s Turkish guards on peaceful American protesters in the nation’s capital, filmed and analyzed in detail by the New York Times, speaks volumes. The amount of smoke surrounding the relationship between the Trump campaign, and possibly Trump himself, and the Russian government has been met not with disclosure, but with further dissembling and resistance of open inquiry. If, indeed, Trump or his campaign with his acquiescence colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election, he will go down in history as a traitor to his country.
Still, the brightness of the Trump star continues to overshadow everything around him. And his political base for the most part continues to see him as they see themselves, victims of some vague conspiratorial forces that have ignored them too long. So far, at least, they appear to be immune to his demonstrated record of hundreds of lies, gaffes and bungled policy initiatives that will adversely affect those very same voters. They say, “pay no attention to what he says, only what he does,” but when he fails to do anything, they say “it’s not his fault; it’s the Democrats/liberals/other offensive names” or “they had it coming” in the case of provoked violence against protesters. His base seems to have accepted his condemnation of the free press whom he decried as “enemies of the people.”
Trump’s base appears to reject out of hand multiply verified reporting by the likes of the Washington Post, New York Times, and, yes, the Wall Street Journal. They scoff at the critiques of notable, thoughtful conservative writers like Bill Kristol and, yes, sometimes even George Will, among others. They prefer to get their information from wacko right-wing websites spewing daily conspiracy theories and Fox News which just makes stuff up to suit its unhinged narrative. The cult-like worship that this implies is a dangerous sign in an environment in which the president, along with the current majority party, aspires to authoritarian approaches to governance.
So, as we approach the midpoint of Trump’s first year in office, his substantive political agenda has largely failed: in courts finding his actions unconstitutional or in Congress unwilling to swallow, so far, his attempts to destroy the health insurance system. Neither of those major fights is settled, however, and there remains the so-called “tax reform” plan to confer more tax breaks on the very wealthy at the expense of everyone else. And his budget contains, among other offenses, a $2 trillion error that the administration says was either (1) intentional (?!?) or (2) offset by economic stimulation that most respectable economists have labeled “magical thinking.”
To use a horse-racing metaphor, we are not yet in the home stretch to the 2018 mid-term elections, but the political landscape over which the battle will be fought is taking shape. The Democratic Party has joined the rest of us, bellowing at Trump’s outrages which come virtually every day, sometimes every few hours, but with no overt strategy, or evident process to create a strategy, for retaking control of the House of Representatives in 2018. The party is in danger of just becoming the Party of No, displacing the role that the Republicans occupied during the Obama years. There is a lot of name-calling in places like Twitter and Facebook, but name-calling is not a winning strategy. Nor, I suggest, is a winning strategy to put forth a politically-inexperienced folk singer with personal/financial issues against a millionaire (I refer to the recently lost election for a vacant House seat in Montana). If that is the best the Democratic Party can do, we are in for rough times ahead.
Judging from my remote outpost, there appears to be a general consensus, loosely speaking, that the Democratic Party should focus on getting the vote out from its traditional base, what unperformed in 2016, rather than trying to persuade the Trump base to accept the mistake they made and return to voting Democratic. This may indeed be the right approach, though I would like to see more studious and sophisticated thought and analysis of how it might be possible to reverse the mindset of Trump’s base. It is most troubling to think that a huge part of the electorate is to be largely ignored because it is believed they are too ignorant to be reached.
There is a lot of talking and “issue analysis” going on in the multitude of advocacy groups that have surfaced in the wake of the 2016 debacle. It feels good to know that thousands of people participate in these calls, which are no doubt monitored by the Republicans, but while talking about what we agree on and on “issue positions” serves a purpose, the Democratic Party leadership needs to stop obsessing about every crazy move or statement from Donald Trump and create a longer-term strategy for defeating the Republicans in 2018. In the meantime, if Trump is as venal and craven as many of us believe, and we get a bit lucky, the Russia investigation will lead inexorably to his impeachment and removal from office. But that is a long-term proposition and far from certain.
Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the Democratic Party must create a vote-generating machine of historical proportions and unprecedented power and focus. It must learn to communicate with the various audiences it must induce to action, not just in protests, though they must continue, but at the ballot box. I do not suggest that Democrats communicate like Trump did but they must incorporate modern theories of communication in messaging and add them to the usual ten-point programs frequently dominate Democratic discourse.
The supporters of Bernie Sanders and fringe candidates who have no chance to win anything must awaken to the reality that politics doesn’t always give us the choices we want, but it does give us the choices we have to make. Not voting for the Democratic Party candidates in 2018 will be tantamount to abandoning your country in its greatest hour of need. You wouldn’t do that if the country were under physical attack from an adversary like Russia, but there is little difference between shying from that fight and failing to vote for candidates committed by experience and qualifications to meet the nation’s challenges with regard to all of our citizens. The time to get woke, to borrow from popular vernacular, is now.