Time for a Reality Check

New Year’s Day. One awful year in and looking toward a similar 2018. Those with whom I come in contact share that “awful year” assessment. We may represent the majority of Americans. But millions of our fellow citizens wouldn’t agree. For them, it was a good, even great, year. Time for a reality check.

You may have convinced yourself that there are two Republican Parties — Trump and non-Trump. Some intellectual conservative writers may hold out in opposition, but there is only one GOP, the Trump Party. Despite conventional wisdom, I don’t think it’s because the “mainstream” has given into Trump. In fact, it might be just the opposite. There is, and was, no populist Trump. That’s opportunist campaign-speak not innate ideology. Trump is, or has chosen to be, what the Republicans have become, a political, social and pro-business rightist. He follows directly in line with what was started by Barry Goldwater, nurtured by Ronald Reagan and brought to its current state by the Tea Party. Trump may be a behavioral outlier — he’s the most (understatement) “un-presidential” man we’ve ever seen — but his policies, not what he says but does, fall in the rightist line. The tax cut is consistent with long held GOP, essentially anti-government, ideology and the Reagan mythology regularly espoused by the party as its ideal. Whether the party has come to Trump or he to them may be of academic interest, but is practically irrelevant. The party is unified — is his, is their’s.

The Democratic Party is in transition. You can accurately portray Republicans as the party of the right, but can’t call Democrats the party of the left. Trump may have faced opponents on the way to his 2016 nomination, but virtually all were cut from the same cohesive, very conservative, cloth. Hillary and Bernie were much further apart. If our political landscape were like some others, it would allow for Right, Center and Left parties. But it isn’t; we remain a two-party democracy. With the right spoken for, Democrats, even if trending left, must speak to and for the center. They can’t win without that coalition. Much as purists, to some small degree myself included, hate the idea, there must be some considerable degree of pragmatic melding. That’s definitely not easy, but another element of our reality check. While Democrats in Congress have clearly held together in 2017, it would be foolhardy to think the party itself has achieved the kind of unity that drives Republicans. It’s a work in progress.

According polling reported at FiveThirtyEight, Trump has historically low approval ratings and the advantage gap between parties in generic Congressional races massively favors Democrats. That alone would argue for strong mid-terms. History reinforces the idea that, in the first post presidential mid-term, prospects for electoral success are good for the out-of-power party. For corroboration, just ask Barack Obama. Reality check: history suggests, it doesn’t predict. Remember how we were laughing at the wild haired man descending the ostentatious escalator on 5th Avenue, how dumbfounded we were on election night 2016? Don’t underestimate The Donald, GOP unity or the hold they have at the state level not to mention his still enthusiastic core supporters. 2018 is not going to be the proverbial walk-in-the-park but a tough trudge up a very steep hill. Republicans have much going for them, especially on the Senate side where key incumbent Democrats are on the defensive in Trump-won states.

We may be bewildered by Trump’s unwavering core support. Knowing what they must know and considering just how vast the gap between his and their lives — unbelievable gilded (literally) wealth compared with daily struggle — how could they still (not to mention ever) support him? In light of Hollywood Access and in the context of #MeToo, how could devout church goers support a self-proclaimed abuser? Reality check. Without suggesting moral equivalence, far from it, remember back to how we averted our eyes from his moral lapses and supported Bill Clinton, especially during his impeachment. We saw it as a witch hunt, which it probably was, and nothing could sway us from standing behind this very talented but equally flawed individual. Liberal clergy, feminists and people with moral standards joined in. I was one of them, weren’t you?

Again, rejecting equivalence, let’s look in the mirror and consider how we reacted in the late ’90s and think about Trump’s supporters today. Reality check, to be honest, their support is hardly shocking, surprising or that different. In fact, I think both instances reveal how indiscriminate we all are, how easily we avert our eyes and values, when it comes to partisanship. That may reflect how we see politics and politicians, but perhaps more so that we knowingly live in a world of imperfection — of greys, not black and whites. We’ve come to accept what is rather than what we know should be. Sad and frustrating as that may be, we humans can’t function without compromise. Remember that’s true not only in the public square but with both our casual and most personal relationships.

Impeachment. Reality check. Talk of impeachment at this moment is premature, unrealistic and counterproductive. We may suspect (even strongly believe) Trump broke the law, committed impeachable offenses, but we have no, yes evidenced based, proof. Impeachment is equivalent to indictment with the House acting as Grand Jury. The bar is always set very high but, with a GOP majority, impeachment is a non-starter. There is a reason the bar is set so high. While the ultimate failsafe for democracy, we vastly prefer taking office holders down through the ballot box. Again, think about the Clinton impeachment and how stretched its rationale — lying about an affair. That may not be so if Robert Muller uncovers either collusion or financial malfeasance, but at this moment the reality remains that we don’t know what his investigation will determine or even if it will touch Trump himself. Regardless, impeachment is not something to take lightly or to cavalierly misuse in campaign slogans or fundraising. There’s enough to oppose, we simply don’t have to go there.

Reality check. Donald Trump will likely be president for another three years and, considering how few one termers we have had, it is hardly inconceivable that he will be win re-election. Even under the cloud of Watergate, Nixon easily won a second term. He didn’t finish it, but his 1972 comfortable victory was an undisputable reality. Nonetheless, Trump himself faces a reality check. No president since Truman has had as low approval ratings at this juncture, none were below 50%. Without discounting his conduct in office, to some degree his numbers reflect a highly polarized citizenry. Obama’s relatively weak approval at the start of 2010, despite having won decisively in ’08, also reflect that polarization. Of course, Trump has done nothing to unify the country. To the contrary, he has purposefully exacerbated the divide. That may come back to bite him.

Reality check. As dismal as things seem and as down as we may feel, there is plenty of reason to hope. As suggested in my most recent post, women are on the march and abusers, at very high levels, are on the run. Even Chief Justice Roberts acknowledges that regarding the judiciary itself in his year-end report. While the Trump GOP has some young followers, the upcoming generation seems to be much more progressive and open-minded than what came before. Perhaps things are still run largely by aging white men, but finite lifespans and demographics suggest their current dominance may shortly be, sooner rather than later, “term-limited”. Trump country may deny global warming, but “mother nature” is relentless and their discounting of evidenced-based science isn’t sustainable. People in the hurricane ravaged red state of Texas are destined to come around to what their fellows in wild fire ravaged California have long accepted. The GOP’s continued denial of humanly facilitated global warming is bound to bring a day of reckoning. More horrendous storms and wild fires and earthquakes are inevitable. The political angry backlash against those who retreated from the Paris Accords will likely be especially brutal and unforgiving.

2018 will be politically challenging for us all, a real test for both Democratic leadership and the grassroots. We dare not buy into complacent optimism, but winning back the House and, though much more difficult, the Senate is a distinct possibility. By way of energizing the troops, I’ll use the sadly unheeded two words of 2016: Supreme Court and for that matter federal courts at all levels. Hand wringing and talk are understandable, but won’t cut it come November. This is something we can, and must, do. If we fail, and that means both making a compelling positive case and leg work, it will be on us. I won’t say glibly, we’ll get what we deserve because no matter how you parse it, we — and that includes the world — didn’t deserve what happened to us in the year just ended. Yes, we didn’t deserve it, take that as the ultimate reality check.