Or…how I learned to let go of Merrick Garland
I wanted Merrick Garland to be on the Supreme Court. I thought the refusal of Senate Republicans to give him a hearing was childish and short-sighted. I thought it set a dangerous precedent. We are seeing the fruits of that to some extent now in the actions of Senate Democrats, many of whom seem to be leaning towards retributive obstruction. Many of my friends on the Left are rallying around the idea. Part of me even feels good thinking about that idea.
Then I start thinking about D2: The Mighty Ducks. Yes, the silly hockey movie featuring Joshua Jackson as a plucky underdog and Emilio Estevez as the star-struck coach of Team USA. Indeed, a Disney movie has something to teach the Left about responding to opponents who just won’t play fair.
I have visions of Democrats pounding their chests at how good it feels to give Republicans what’s coming to them, along with the sad realization that they haven’t achieved anything at all.
Coach Bombay: Did y’all enjoy that?
Team Left: Yeah!
Coach Bombay: Ok, well so did they. Because they’re still three points up, and we’re one period away from defeat.
That’s exactly how I see things playing out if the Left pursues a path of vengeance against the Right. It will feel awesome. We’ll make popcorn, then laugh as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell rip their hair out trying to get anything done. President Trump will make some ill-advised decisions, and we’ll get to say “I told you so”! Maybe we’ll even pick up a Senate seat, but I wouldn’t count on it. Then, after we’re done high fiving one another, we’ll realize something; we lost again. We. Lost. Again.
Here’s the thing. The Left is losing right now where it actually matters. Sure, Hillary won the popular vote, but Trump still won the White House. The Senate belongs to the Republicans, and the 2018 elections do not favor Democrat’s chances at getting it back.
Keeping the Supreme Court at a 5-4 split is the best case scenario right now, with three left-leaning judges in their waning years on the court.
I’m not even going to talk about the House.
And so, I’m afraid we just have to let go of the Merrick Garland ordeal. As an Auburn fan, I understand how much it sucks to get screwed out of a victory (Google “2004 Auburn Football” and “BCS”). But it’s done. The Right won that round, even if they kinda-sorta-definitely cheated to do it. If the Left does the same, we will still end up with a Trump appointee to the Supreme Court, and further, it will damage our credibility with the moderate American. Worst of all, we will further reinforce a terrible precedent that we didn’t start. Make no mistake; we will take the blame for it. Dissent by total obstruction got us where we are now. Do we really want to continue down that course?
Here’s the thing. Neil Gorsuch is probably the best offer we are going to get from this administration. I vehemently disagree with his personal stances on women’s rights, labor, corporate participation in campaign funding, and a whole host of other issues. However, I also think he is a fair-minded judge, especially if he meant this:
“I respect, too, the fact that in our legal order it is for Congress and not the courts to write new laws. It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people’s representatives. A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge…” Neil Gorsuch, as quoted in the Denver Post
I’ve read one or two of Judge Gorsuch’s decisions, and he seems to make rational, compelling arguments. I have to admit that I agreed with him about the 13-year old burping case that ran in the Washington Post (BTW – WTF?). My point is, we could do a lot worse. To me, this is not a hill worth dying on.
Beyond the Supreme Court, I think the Left needs to return to their greatest strength: Wisdom. My dear friend Google defines wisdom as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” The Left has those things, if only we can stay out of our own way. Statistically, we are well-educated. Our membership has a wealth and diversity of life experience. At our best, we have used good judgment, even when it cost us political points. The Civil Rights Act cost Democrats the South, but it was the right decision. Passing the Affordable Care Act (an admittedly flawed bill) probably cost us the House and the Senate. It still helped millions of Americans get health care they needed and, by that measure, it was the right thing to do. Democrats led the way on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the GI Bill, The Peace Corp, Americorps, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Freedom of Information Act, The Voting Rights Act, Public Universities, and Public Broadcasting. We accomplish incredible feats when we trust wisdom over political expediency. I think we should trust our fellow Americans to recognize that.
So what should the Left do now, if not stand in absolute opposition to our friends on the Right. I’m not an experienced hand when it comes to political strategy, but I have a few ideas. They aren’t that original. I learned and/or adapted most of them from people older and more knowledgeable than me. That being said, here are my suggestions for a wiser Left in the Trump era.
1) Build a bipartisan coalition against the most radical aspects of the Trump administration.
John McCain and Lindsey Graham are already expressing grave concerns about the direction of the President’s foreign and defense policies. We need to work with them on this. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski oppose Betsy DeVos’s appointment as Secretary of Education. We need to work on education policy with them. I’m not convinced Paul Ryan is comfortable working with the Trump Administration on key issues like healthcare or economics. We need to hear him out and try to find an acceptable middle ground, even if the resulting policy has his name on it. Moderate to Liberal voters are not stupid. They understand intelligent compromises. We need to trust that.
2) Pick the right battles with Trump administration.
Under normal circumstances, I’d be outraged if Democrats failed to act against even the least controversial of Trump’s actions. Ten years ago, I protested almost everything George W. Bush did (I never thought I’d miss him, but I do. Read this and tell me you don’t respect “W” just a little bit more). However, these are not normal circumstances. We have to stop taking the bait on every cringe-worthy Tweet and offensive remark. Steve Bannon, a self-avowed Alt-Right Nationalist, has been given a principal position on the National Security Council. The leadership of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Intelligence community have seemingly less influence on the President than a man who reportedly said “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” That’s happening. There are things about this administration that scare the crap out of the President’s own party. In keeping with Suggestion #1, we need to work with people on the Right in these cases.
3) Focus on local elections, especially in the red states.
I live in Alabama, y’all, so I am well-acquainted with the art of losing elections all the damn time. In previous Presidential elections, it has given me the freedom to vote my conscience, knowing with certainty that it will have no impact on the result. That kind of thinking has to change. In my home state, Republicans had a hysterically scandalous 2016. Our Republican governor was nearly impeached by his own party over an alleged affair with his political adviser (they attended the inauguration together, BTW), our Republican Chief Justice was removed from the bench (again!) for failing to comply with federal law, and our Republican Speaker of the House went to jail for virtually every form of financial corruption imaginable. I wish I was making this stuff up.
If the Democratic Party can’t make progress in Alabama under these conditions, we are in more trouble than I thought. We need to campaign in earnest to win every election we can. Alabama’s Democratic leadership has issues aplenty, but there are many young Democrats who are not a part of that. You probably have friends and neighbors who respect you and might just vote for a Democrat if it were you. We won’t know if we don’t try. If we’re going to shrink the divide between elitist coast dwellers and blue collar America, we’re eventually going to have to start winning in places like my beloved South. It’s time to get off our asses and do something about it.
4) Make better arguments
For all our education, we members of the Left are not great at winning arguments with the Right. Sure, we can make long-winded, accurate, well-crafted statements (guilty as charged), but we don’t change minds. We get accolades from people that already agree with us, feel awesome, and go on with our lives thinking we’ve achieved something. Instead, we need to engage with people who disagree with us and learn what they actually care about. We need to educate our friends about things like poverty without waving our smug opinions in their faces. We have to learn to be right without being stuck-up about it. That’s going to take practice and a whole lot of feeling stupid to do. That’s all the more reason to do it. If you aren’t spending time with someone who disagrees with you, make an effort to do so. If you change your mind about a few issues, all the better. The first step to changing minds is being open to changing your own. If you aren’t willing to do that, you’re no better than Ann Coulter.
Bonus: Here’s a book to read if you aren’t well versed in the art of the argument.
5) Stop being offended and focus on things that actually matter.
I’m not saying that people don’t say hurtful, insensitive things. They do. I’m not saying feelings are unimportant. They are. But we are going to have a hard time shaping a meaningful political discourse if all we do is get mad whenever someone offends somebody. Bill Maher is right about this. So is the ever-vulgar Jonathan Pie. Instead of demanding apologies for politically incorrect statements with no meaningful consequences, save your anger for actions with real consequences: the Flint water crisis, Keystone XL, systematic poverty, spacial segregation. These issues are worth getting angry and righteously indignant about. These are the issues we can win on.
6) Be well-informed, and call out those who are not (especially if you agree with them).
We accuse the Right of getting their news from bad sources. But, we do it too. I cringe every time I see one of my friends post something I know is fake news just to support an opinion I agree with. I cringe even more when I share their posts without thoroughly vetting the information myself. If we want to go after the Right for perpetuating false information, we cannot do the same. Our single greatest argument is that our opinions are informed by facts. We have to be above reproach when it comes to this. We can’t afford not to be.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this. I am proudly progressive. I believe the Democratic Party gets it right more often than not. As a more-liberal-than-not-moderate, I don’t agree with every idea that comes from the Left. For me, it isn’t about seeing my team win. It’s about believing in what I think is right. And if you can’t win doing what you think is right, then you don’t deserve to win. There’s a clip from The Newsroom I like to watch whenever I feel complacent about my duties as a citizen. You’ve probably seen it before, but I’d like to share it anyway. Jeff Daniels asks why liberals lose if they are so smart. I think that’s a fair question, and one we need to confront. The stakes are too high not to.