By 1968, voters had tired of the failed Great Society of Lyndon Johnson. Four years later, the 1972 Nixon reelection re-emphasized that a doubled-down McGovern liberalism was even less of a viable agenda.
In that context, in 1974, obsessing on Watergate and a demonized Nixon were wise liberal alternatives to running on a positive left-wing vision, given the growing conservative backlash of the 1970s.
After Watergate and the Ford pardon, Jimmy Carter squeaked to a close victory and a one-term presidency — before the country tired of his strident liberalism poorly cloaked in conservative clothing. Bill Clinton’s third-way centrism eventually was a winning Democratic alternative to regain the presidency — albeit with help from two Ross Perot third-party candidacies. Given these historical reminders, the current efforts at Trump character assassination may be the best — or only — progressive pathway back to political power.
In the last few days, the Democratic party lost its fourth special House election; most of the four were billed in advance as likely negative referenda on the contentious first six months of the Trump presidency. Post facto, the uniformly unwelcomed results were written off as idiosyncratic outliers of no importance.
Shortly before the Georgia election, a hard-left-wing killer attacked the players at a congressional baseball practice, intent on the assassination of Republican legislators, whom he had targeted on his hit list. The shooter was foiled, but not before seriously wounding Steve Scalise, the current Republican majority whip in the House.
The two events in saner times might have prompted introspection about why the Democrats keep losing elections and why a hard-core progressive supporter would seek to assassinate key Republican leaders. Indeed, for a brief moment, there were calls on both sides of the aisle to scale back inflammatory rhetoric that in theory might push such politicized would-be shooters over the edge. One might have hoped that self-reflective Democrats could begin to grasp why voters distrusted them more than they feared Trump.
Such moments quickly vanished. Progressives saw any remedies to identity politics as worse than the disease of electoral defeat. Elizabeth Warren, with her trademark rancor, was once again talking about Republican “blood money” — as if her opponents in the Congress were legislative assassins rather than the recent targets of such. An increasingly addled Hillary Clinton (she had loudly joined the “Resistance”) accused the GOP of becoming the “death party,” reminding the country why progressive fanatics such as James Hodgkinson might think rifle fire is the only answer to conservatives who traffic in blood.
Meanwhile, another day, another Hollywood celebrity dreaming of, or advocating, the assassination of Donald Trump: This time a disturbed Johnny Depp (playing the role of Kathy Griffin or Snoop Dogg) mused out loud about repeating a John Wilkes Booth–style shooting. Since January, left-wing pundits and celebrities have alluded that Trump might be decapitated, stabbed by a mob, shot, punched, hit with a bat, blown up, strung up, and flipped off. Incineration and drowning are about the last modes of Trump mayhem left unsaid.
Barack Obama, amid the assassination chic and the obscenity of key Democrats such as Kamala Harris, Tom Perez, and Kirsten Gillibrand, recently remonstrated about the evils of inequality and the need for more diversity — at $10,000 a minute to largely white, Wall Street audiences, while whining about the ongoing recalibration of his failed Obamacare project. That is what passes for 21st-century progressive community organizing.
Left unsaid was that Obama had virtually destroyed the Democratic party, which during his tenure lost more than 1,000 state and local elections and both the House and the Senate. Obama left a personal legacy of a party agenda that had no popular support, an incoming Republican presidency, a conservative Supreme Court, a tenure to be systematically overturned, and a one-time progressive electoral paradigm that could work only for himself while imploding almost any other candidate foolish enough to try to replicate it.
And progressives oddly loved him for all that.
Of the Democratic policies once envisioned under Bill Clinton, few are left.
It is said that Democrats are in an existential crisis because of their obsessions with Donald Trump — suing over the election, trying to subvert the Electoral College, dreaming of impeachment and the 25th Amendment, filing briefs under the emoluments clause of the Constitution, stalling appointments, relying on deep-state insurrectionary bureaucrats, cherry-picking liberal judges for obstructive passes, and going from one conspiracy theory to the next as collusion begat obstruction that begat witness tampering. More outsider advice is for Democrats to focus instead on their agenda.
But nothing could be more paradoxical. Or rather, what agenda?
Of the Democratic policies once envisioned under Bill Clinton (opposing illegal immigration, dreams of abortions as rare, balanced budgets, workfare, being tough on crime), few are left. In other words, progressives logically obsess about Trump, because otherwise they would have to defend agendas that most Americans simply do not support.
Do voters really wish to hear that illegal immigration is healthy and that the greater problem lies with us (the paranoid host) rather than the millions who knowingly cross the border illegally?
Would Americans wish to be lectured about transgendered restrooms by those who as late as 2011 opposed gay marriage?
Do voters think that progressive administrators, whiny indebted students, and the end of campus free speech and free assembly are models for higher education and arguments for federal bailouts?
Do voters really wish to hear that illegal immigration is healthy and that the greater problem lies with us (the paranoid host) rather than the millions who knowingly cross the border illegally? (Most Americans believe that there is no such thing as an “undocumented immigrant,” given that most illegal aliens in fact possess ample documentation — albeit false social-security numbers, false IDs, and occasionally false names. “Falsely documented immigrants” is the more intellectually honest rubric.)
Do voters wish to hear from those who doubled the debt in eight years that Trump, after six months, is fiscally reckless? Are they tired of “make America great again” and “our farmers,” “our veterans,” and “our miners,” and prefer instead another “you didn’t build that” sermon or a finger-pointing “now is not the time to profit” scold? Is snarky anti-American sloganeering preferable to honest pro-American mantras?
Perhaps Trumpian triumphalism has embarrassed voters and they yearn for a return to progressive apologetics — they’re nostalgic for another Cairo speech from Obama, or more ceremonial bows to foreign leaders, or more outreach to the Cubans and Iranians?
Do they want to be told that Trump’s efforts on deregulation, jobs, and energy won’t work by those who could not achieve a single year of 3 percent annual GDP growth over eight years?
What otherwise would fill the progressive void, if Democrats were not currently obsessed with Donald Trump?
Advocating more illegal immigration, more entitlements, and fewer voter-identification requirements to continue to alter the demographics of voting? Expanding food-stamp and disability rolls? Higher health-care premiums and deductibles?
Would Democrats run on their opposition to the sudden Trumpian use of words such as “radical Islam,” “jihadism,” and “terrorism”?
Are there too few abortions in America?
Would they trash Trump for suggesting that “all lives matter” or that newcomers to the U.S. should avoid the welfare rolls for five years? Would those be more winning issues than the current obscenity, conspiracy theories, and assassination chic?
Would Democrats instead run on a more resonant foreign policy?
Perhaps advocacy of a 2.0 reset with Putin to recalibrate the appeasement of Russia? Or a doubling down on the Iran Deal to allow more “latitude” to the Khomeinist autocracy? Should the downward defense budget descend to 2 percent of GDP? More stringent rules of engagement for our troops on the ground?
Should more identity-politics activists on cable TV wish more often for the death of Representative Scalise, or urge people of color to let such conservative whites bleed in extremis, or certainly not lament the targeted, given that they supposedly got what they deserved?
In general, are we in need of more ethnic, religious, and racial separatism, a greater investment in the progressive salad bowls than the ossified traditional melting pot? Do we need more trilling of our names, more accent marks sprinkled over our nomenclature?
Should Democrats, the party of youth, vigor, hip, cool, hope, and change, simply forget Trump and instead showcase their dynamic leadership and forward-looking activists: a 69-year-old Hillary Clinton, an 84-year-old Dianne Feinstein, a 79-year-old Jerry Brown, a 77-year-old Nancy Pelosi, a 75-year-old Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old Joe Biden, a 68-year-old Elizabeth Warren, or a young 66-year-old Chuck Schumer?
Or should a next generation of minorities and women now take over the reins from ossified progressives — such as an obscenity-shouting Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, or Tom Perez? Does Keith Ellison offer the proper agenda and background profile for national progressive exposure? Should more Pajama Boy candidates such as Jon Ossoff be recruited to highlight the big-city, hip, metrosexual core of the Democratic party?
If freed from the Trump obsessions, would progressives make great inroads by renouncing increased oil and gas production through fracking and horizontal drilling, all while they re-up Solyndra-like projects, shut down the Keystone and the Dakota Access pipelines, and hope, as did former secretary of energy Steven Chu, that energy prices rise so that subsidized wind and solar will be more viable? Would they run on discouraging thousands of new jobs in the petrochemical, aluminum, and fertilizer industries, given that such companies are relocating to the U.S. to capitalize on its cheap energy?
The Democrats are now a pyramidal party — ethnic-identity groups at the base and wealthy elites on top, all united by a mutual disdain for the half of the population that covers 85 percent of the geography.
The point is that somewhere between 2006 and 2009, Bill Clinton’s formerly competitive Democratic party aged and then evaporated. It was replaced by a hard-left coastal coalition, a pyramidal party — ethnic-identity groups at the base and wealthy elites on top, all united by a mutual disdain for the half of the population that covers 85 percent of the geography.
What followed were universities, Hollywood, the media, and the wealthy damning supposed “white privilege” (a phrase rarely spoken outside of university ethnic-studies departments prior to 2009), as those who did not have privilege were damned by those who most certainly did.
So the Democrats logically grew hysterical over Trump because they had few choices other than a rescue through a Watergate-like crisis.
Democrats forgot the unprecedented conditions that brought a hard-left icon such as Barack Obama into power in 2009: an orphaned election without a run by an incumbent president or vice president, the largest fundraising in presidential history, unprecedented media bias, the anger over the Iraq War, the panic over the September 2008 Wall Street meltdown, the novelty of the first African-American president, the weakness of the McCain candidacy, and the media demonization of incumbent George Bush.
They also ignored that the Obama agenda after 2010 was relegated to executive orders and treaties abroad that bypassed the Senate, because it had lost public and legislative support. Today progressives revere the rarity of the left-wing presidency of Barack Obama despite its failures and what it did to the Democratic party — and with the full realization that Obama’s electoral formula and his agenda are not inheritable.
Given those realities, Trump Derangement is not a misappropriation of progressive resources. Instead it is logically the chief and only viable message that the current Democratic party has left.