April 28, 2017 5:00 am
Let’s reverse angle. The president’s first 100 days in office have been analyzed, dissected, evaluated. Not much left to say about them. What about the opposition? What do the Democrats have to show for these first months of the Trump era?
Little. Trump’s defeats have not come at the Democrats’ hands. Those setbacks have been self-inflicted (over-the-top tweets, hastily written policies, few sub-cabinet nominations) or have come from the judiciary (the travel ban, the sanctuary cities order) or from Republican infighting (health care). Deregulation, Keystone pipeline, immigration enforcement—Democrats have been powerless to stop them.
Chuck Schumer slow-walked Trump’s nominations as best he could. In fact his obstruction wasunprecedented. But the cabinet is filling up, the national security team in place. On the Supreme Court, Schumer miscalculated royally. He forced an end to the filibuster for judicial appointments, yet lost anyway. If another appointment opens this summer, and the Republicans hold together, the Democrats will have zero ability to prevent the Court from moving right. No matter what he says in public, Schumer can’t possibly think that a success.
The prevalent anti-Trump sentiment obscures the party’s institutional degradation. Democratic voters despise the president—he enjoys the approval of barely more than 10 percent of them—and this anger and vitriol manifests itself in our media and culture. So Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert enjoy a ratings boom, the women’s march attracts a massive crowd, the New York Times sells more subscriptions, and Bill Nye leads a rainy-day “march for science.” The desire to ostentatiously “resist” Trump leads to better-than-expected results for Democratic candidates in congressional special elections. But the candidates don’t win—or at least they haven’t yet.
Democrats feel betrayed. The Electoral College betrayed them by making Trump president. Hillary Clinton betrayed them by running an uninspiring campaign. James Comey betrayed them by reopening the investigation into Clinton’s server 11 days before the election. Facebook betrayed them by circulating fake news. This sense of resentment isn’t so different than the sort Democrats attribute to Trump supporters: irritation at a loss of status, vexation at changed circumstances. The despondence of a liberal is alleviated when he sees throngs of protesters, hears Samantha Bee, scrolls through Louise Mensch’s tweets.
Makes him feel better. But his party is in tatters, reduced to 16 governors, 30 state legislative chambers, a historically low number of state legislative seats, 193 members of the House, 46 senators. The Democrats are leaderless, rudderless, held together only by opposition to Trump. The most popular figure on the left refuses to call himself a Democrat while sitting alongside the newly elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee. That chairman, dirty-talking Tom Perez, represents a professional, technocratic class that supports Wall Street and globalization as long as there is room for multiculturalism and social liberalism. That is a different strategy from both the 50-state approach of Howard Dean, Rahm Emanuel, and Schumer that brought Democrats control of Congress in 2006, and the anti-Wall Street, protectionist, single-payer left of Bernie Sanders. Perez fights with Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi over whether there is room for pro-lifers in the party—Perez thinks not. Pelosi enjoys the distinction of being an American political figure less popular than Donald Trump.
What is the Democratic agenda? What does the party have to offer besides disunity, obstruction, incoherence, obsession, and obliviousness? They haven’t rallied behind a plan to fix Obamacare or an alternative to the president’s tax proposal. They seem dead set against enforcement of immigration laws, they seem opposed to any restrictions on abortion, they seem as eager as ever to regulate firearms and carbon dioxide. It’s hard to detect a consensus beyond that. Banks, trade, health care, taxes, free speech, foreign intervention—these issues are undecided, up for grabs.
For eight years President Obama supplied the Democratic message, provided the Democrats answers to public questions. Now Obama himself is under fire for agreeing to deliver a $400,000 speech to Cantor Fitzgerald. He is already a figure of the past: His hair gray, his legacy under siege, his time spent lounging on Richard Branson’s yacht or listening desultorily to Chicago undergrads. The energy is with Bernie, with the identity-politics movements, with the paramilitary “antifa” bands, and each one of these overlapping sects are outside the party establishment Obama represents.
That establishment is just as befuddled as its Republican counterpart at the current political scene. “I don’t know what’s happening in the country,” Hillary Clinton is said to have told a friend at some point during the recent campaign. This apprehension of distance between herself and the everyday lives of her co-nationals is one of the most perceptive observations Clinton has ever made. Her problem was she never figured out the answer, never came to realize that the various guesses she and Obama and other professional Democrats have wagered about “what’s happening in the country”—racism, sexism, nativism, gerrymandering, Citizens United, Fox News Channel and talk radio, Russia—are insufficient. What the Democratic Party has yet to understand is that its social and cultural agenda is irrelevant or inimical to the material and spiritual well being of their former constituents. And until the Democrats recognize this fact, their next 100 days will be no better than their first.