A progressive’s reflections on ten things we know, halfway through Trump’s first year
1. Trump is every bit as bad we thought he would be, a moral abomination with no redeeming qualities or outlying bright spot. In this he is unique among the 45 American Presidents, awful as a few of them were. He should be forced out of office — by mass movement, impeachment, or force of law — as soon as possible.
2. Besides lacking any moral or ethical compass, Trump has proven to be an extremely weak leader due to his laziness, ignorance, self-absorption and incompetence. For all of his bluster about winning, because of that sorry collection of qualities and the fissures in the Republican Party and his own administration, Trump has so far failed to accomplish any of his top policy priorities: repealing the Affordable Care Act, enacting regressive tax reform, and passing an infrastructure bill.
3. Despite Trump’s troubles, reflected in plummeting support ratings, and his historically paltry record of legislative accomplishment — and while we are all focused on his ranting tweets, his reckless threats on North Korea, and his refusal to condemn actual Nazis and Klan members — his administration is fast undoing many progressive gains through executive action gutting civil rights, environmental, labor and other protections. His one signature achievement may be the most enduring — delivering a right-wing Supreme Court Justice, which is what his base cares most about, after Mitch McConnell stole the appointment from Barack Obama.
4. The very relentlessness of Trump’s outrageousness is eroding traditional norms of governance and Presidential behavior that may never be fully reversed. A significant minority of the voting population, and apparent majority of Republican voters, has been steadily inoculated by Trump to disbelieve any investigative reporting, rigorous science or sound budgeting analysis, preferring to live in a world where facts are just another variety of opinion. This will long survive the Trump administration. It’s less clear how much lasting damage is being done to essential democratic norms like freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary, to name just two elements of U.S. constitutional democracy that Trump has little use for.
5. Trump and many around him may yet be brought down by the Mueller investigation, given the multiple lines of corruption and perfidy around Trump, his family and associates, but we cannot count on that to save us. There is no substitute for the hard work of organizing before, during and after elections.
6. The people around Trump who are supposed to be relatively moderating influences — the generals, the Goldman Sachs alums, his daughter and son-in-law — are being played for saps. With very few exceptions, the institutional Republican Party, far from checking Trump, has enabled him by its silence and squandered whatever shreds of the credibility and moral weight it had left. Will that change in the next few days after Trump’s appalling news conference equating neo-Nazis and Klan members with their opposition? There are a few glimmers of hope. But so far corporate CEOs have been quicker to get it and distance themselves from the moral horrors of the Trump administration than elected officials and cabinet members.
7. Resistance — by ordinary people on the streets and in town halls all across the country, fueled for the most part by small contributions — has been a huge factor in blocking the worst of Trump and the Republicans so far. Some of it will be sustained, and add important new organizations and movements to the landscape, and some of it will fade. But resistance, vital as it has been in these early months, must pivot to a more affirmative vision and argument, for as last November showed, basing your campaign on the wretchedness of your opposition is not a winning strategy — and certainly not a basis for governing.
8. Every sign we have is that an inclusive economy that works for all must lie at the core of any successful campaign. Progressives have taken some steps in building that case, but still have a long way to go. Vigorous opposition to the Trump agenda must not come at the expense of deep and ongoing investment in forging a progressive economic narrative — and to the organizing campaigns that are making that real in communities and states across the country by improving wages and working conditions, generating greater public investment in family economic supports, and curbing the extractive economic practices of bad corporate actors.
9. While what happens in Washington preoccupies the political class and the majority of the journalists around it, what most affects the lives of working people, women, communities of color and all people happens at the state level, where the right has made enormous gains in the last decade. If this doesn’t get serious and sustained attention from progressives in the next few election cycles, the advantage the right has built could be locked in for at least another decade. There are encouraging signs that this is finally getting the attention and resources it demands, but we dare not lose focus.
10. At this moment of maximum danger for the republic, and despite some effective alliances built in resistance work, there are fights breaking out among progressives that turn energy and fire inward and sap strength at a time when we can least afford it. Of course there are core human rights issues such as standing against police violence or for reproductive rights that should not be negotiable, and honest debate about strategic or policy differences is essential to our work together. But no successful political movement or restoration has been based on the mathematics of exclusion, and we will not regain or deserve power if we go down this road. We have to get our act together. The stakes are higher than ever before.