The great irony is that by the very act of putting political considerations ahead of clear constitutional duty and profound national interest, the Democrats are seriously undermining their own political prospects.
They don’t seem to understand that a large chunk of the American electorate cares more about their leaders showing strength and guts than about how fully those leaders align themselves with the Good and the Right.
It would be great if the voters always recoiled against politicians, and political parties, that act badly, from base motives. But that seems not to be the case.
For the past generation, the Republicans have shown themselves to be strong and immoral, while the Democrats have shown themselves to be good but weak. And over those years, in a system where voters confer power, it is the force of brokenness animating today’s Republican Party that has gained in strength in American politics.
For one quick recent illustration of how this dichotomy has played out, recall the scene during the 2016 presidential debates when Trump kept following Hillary around the stage, looming over her in a threatening way. Hillary said in her book about the campaign that she wished she’d turned and said to Trump, “Back off, you creep!” But she said nothing, allowing Trump to get away with that unprecedented act of boorish intimidation.
Although one would like to believe that Americans generally would say, “Surely we must not give power to such a mean-spirited bully!” my guess is that Hillary lost more votes for having failed to tell the creep to back off than Trump lost for his ugly behavior.
And similarly, in 2004, the Bush camp should have been penalized by voters for the dishonest “Swiftboating” of John Kerry. But instead, it was Kerry who lost ground through that episode, largely because he counter-attacked tardily and weakly. And it was W – who’d shirked his Vietnam-era military duties – who got to posture as the military hero, and who – despite the fiasco of his botched Iraq War – was re-elected.
Perhaps most of all, there was Obama, who got re-elected but whose weakness in dealing with the all-out assault on his presidency by Mitch McConnell and his Republicans – making Obama’s failure their top priority – cost him much of the presidential power the American people had given Obama to wield to advance their interests and values.
And this pattern continues now, as the Democrats hesitate to act in response to this president whose contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law goes beyond anything ever seen in an American president. No impeachment hearings yet; not even using the powers they have through “inherent contempt” to jail those lawlessly thumbing their noses at subpoenas issued by Congress in the exercise of its constitutional responsibilities.
The Democrats hold back because of political considerations, apparently: they fear that too many Americans will not “approve” of their doing what their oath of office requires of them. Hence the irony, for even political calculations should rouse the Democrats to demonstrate fearless resolve.
But it is this lawless president who shows such resolve, shows that he will do anything and everything he can to prevail over the rule of law. And meanwhile the Democrats – doing much less than everything – fail to match the determination of their foe.
This is but the latest edition of the kind of fear that has consistently led the Democrats into political disaster:
• Fear that led the Democrats — in 2010 — to hold back from attacking the Republicans in the 2010 election season for their scandalous behavior regarding health-care reform, and
• Fear that kept the Democrats — in 2014 — from confronting the Republicans’ over their indefensible and unprecedented across-the-board obstruction, where they sacrificed the good of the nation in order to discredit the president from the other party.
In both cases, for the over-cautious Democrats, the result was a political bloodbath. Americans favored the aggressive party over the weak one.
Maybe it’s because, in a dangerous world, people see their leaders as their protectors. And so they are drawn to strength and courage:
• Even if, as with Trump and the Trump party, that strength is coupled with moral bankruptcy; and
• Even if the party acting out of the weakness (that comes from fear) has been standing up for the nation’s basic values (for respect for the rule of law, for truth-telling, for harmony among Americans, for the preservation of the systems of life on earth).
With the preservation of American democracy so clearly on the line, we need at last an end to the time when, in Yeats’ famous line, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst // Are filled with a passionate intensity.”
We need Democratic leadership that is not governed by fear, but rather will act from the strength of conviction.