Being away from New York and the news cycle for a few days gives you tremendous perspective and a bit of a mental health break, but the facts of our present situation become no less clear with distance from the cable news set. Donald Trump is no less a disaster this week than he was last week. And he will be no less a disaster next week than he is today.
Indeed Trump, lashing out at the media and whipping his audiences into a frenzy of xenophobia and Confederacy nostalgia, is in a sense not the president of the United States. True, he remains installed in office until by the grace of Bob Mueller he is compelled to resign or 2020 brings forward the better angels of American voters’ nature. But he no more leads this nation than a garden gnome grows your hydrangeas. He is an empty figurehead, mentally unraveling on live television and swinging wildly at the ghosts of his accidental victory and certain condemnation by history. To the extent he leads anyone, it’s little more than the same ragged cult of dead enders who’ve always been among us—who’ve swung back and forth between the parties for more than a century and who can’t bring themselves to regard the naked emperor in their midst or face the true meaning of their vote for him.
According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, Trump earns a lopsided disapproval rating of 59 percent, with just 35 percent of Americans applauding the job he is doing. At this stage it makes little sense to wonder what that 35 percent are thinking. Suffice it to say it may be down to pure tribal loyalty. Per Quinnipiac: “[e]very party, gender, education, age and racial group disapproves” of Trump’s performance, “except Republicans, who approve 77-14 percent; white voters with no college, approving 52-40 percent, and white men, who approve by a narrow 50-46 percent.”
In other words, Trump is the leader of approximately one half of one third of the adult population of the United States.
I’m often asked as I move around the country, what can be done to stop the nightmare that Trump represents to the other two-thirds of Americans. I think the answer is fairly simple. As you march for the resistance or just watch the Trump dumpster fire burn, begin preparing to kick out the pillar propping him up: namely, the Republican Congress that serves as his sword and shield. These men and a few women have perfected the art of complaining to reporters on background, yet they have made clear that they will do nothing to bring the Trump Hindenburg to the ground before it incinerates itself and everyone in it. Their love of tax cuts and gutting health care is too great, and their fear of the small, hardened core of Trump enthusiasts in their states and districts is too strong.
It therefore falls to the Democrats, the imperfect, often scattered opposition party, to right the ship. This is no time for intraparty perfectionism or partisan protectionism. All who wish to see the Trump circus brought to an end need to focus on doing whatever it takes to put the Democratic Party in charge of Congress on Jan. 1, 2019.
This is not a matter of mere partisanship. Republicans have made it clear that even the most heroic among them, John McCain, will do only enough to stop the worst aspects of Trump’s disaster agenda, but no more. And if the Senate, led by the privately stewing but publicly obedient Mitch McConnell, is bad, the House and its dead-eyed Speaker Paul Ryan, are worse, since Ryan’s zeal to tear up the social safety net predates and even supersedes Trump’s.
Whatever background disgust they feel about their boorish president, Republicans share much more in common with Trump than differences. All want to gut or repeal Obamacare. All want to slash taxes on the richest Americans at nearly any cost. All would willingly suppress voting rights to ensure perpetual Republican power even when demographic reality inevitably reduces it to minority rule. They may not be willing to shut down the government to build Trump’s Potemkin wall or institute an economically disastrous “border adjustment tax,” but that doesn’t mean they won’t do all they can to advance the legislative pillars of Trumpism; and more importantly, to leave their addled figurehead in place.
And don’t count on Trump voters to save the country. Whether the dug-in Trumpists fawned over continually by the obsessed anthropologists of the mainstream media, or the 12 percent of Bernie Sanders voters who pulled the lever for Trump to keep Her out of office, these Americans are what they are and they aren’t going to change. It’s time to let them go, let them live their lives free from our collective gaze and get on with the hard work of fixing what Trumpism is making rotten.
That rot extends beyond politics. Trumpism is seeping into this country’s pores—infecting the schools where the president’s surname is an epithet hurled by white students against brown and black ones; by boys against girls and sometimes by teachers against their own students. It is sullying the churches where this president’s amorality is not just tolerated, but venerated as placed before us by the hand of God. Trumpism is making the United States a laughingstock around the world; and particularly after his shameful response to the Charlottesville and the rise of white nationalists under his banner, it is replacing international aspiration toward America with mortification. As a Trumpist nation, we are an anathema to a striving planet.
That can and must be undone. Robert Mueller is doing his work quietly and methodically, but Americans needn’t wait for his investigations to reach fruition, or for a new Barack Obama to come along and save us in 2020, when the Congress can do it sooner.
And so, Democrats, it’s time to get serious and get your act together. Sideline the consultants and their TV ad buy fees, shut down the focus groups and make this very simple call to the American people: Give us the Congress; we’ll take care of Trump.
Give us the Congress; we’ll take care of Trump.
What does that mean? It means that without Republicans standing in the way, Democrats can pass legislation that prevents Trump from gutting Medicaid or tanking the individual insurance market simply to punish Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and John McCain. It means vowing to put before him legislation that reasserts Congress’ power to send this nation to war and limits Trump’s ability to launch a nuclear strike. And it means passing legislation that protects Mueller’s investigation from interference by the White House or by Republican members of congress and daring him to veto it.
To turn those promises into reality, Democrats must get busy launching a massive voter registration effort today. Republicans will throw every roadblock in the way of voters of color in 2018, and Democrats—backed by an army of lawyers—must be prepared to fight back. Having more voters on the rolls and more legal assistance for them will be crucial, particularly since they’ll also be fighting the federal government.
For principled Republicans who see the threat that Trump represents, the message to you is simple: divided government is the only hope of salvaging your party too, since while Republicans remain in complete control of the federal government, there is no compelling the GOP to stop this president. Never-Trump Republicans made that hard choice in 2016, and they should make it again in 2018, for the good of the country. We can always go back to fighting the big ideological battles that continue to divide us in 2020.
For now, there is only one priority. Changing the leadership of congress is the only certain path to reining in Donald Trump and his kakistocratic administration. Take down his support system and the mad king sputters and falls. That means every state and congressional Republican who can be defeated in 2018 must be. Who knows—facing the prospect of an opposition Congress instead of a body full of footmen, he may even be compelled to go quietly back to Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster on his own.