Trying to dislodge a president whose approval ratings have been stuck well below 50 percent for virtually his entire presidency, in an atmosphere of economic effervescence, Democrats would be smart to signal voters that they won’t bring about major policy shifts but will restore decorous behavior.
Instead, they’re doing the opposite.
George W. Bush inspired Charles Krauthammer to coin the term “Bush Derangement Syndrome.” President Obama likened his opposition to a “fever.” But no president has ever done what President Trump is doing to his ideological adversaries, which is to cause them to lunge uncontrollably around the political stage like so many kittens chasing the dot made by a laser pointer.
Behold: Nancy Pelosi, she of the tight self-control and the 32-year run in Congress, threw a hissy fit on live television and ripped up the State of the Union speech. The silky slalom schusser tumbled over her skis and planted her face in the side of the mountain. What she probably thought would look like a gesture of aggression and defiance instead looked more like petulance and frustration. Trump not only gave a great speech, he gave great television, which is far more important. “A master showman at his best,” declared Norah O’Donnell, the CBS Evening News anchor. The effectiveness of the SOTU made Pelosi mad. Trump’s discipline made Pelosi mad. His obliteration of the impeachment drama by not even dignifying it with a mention made Pelosi mad. #PelosiTantrum and #NancytheRipper were top trending topics on Twitter. Democrats think they’re going to rage their way into the White House. Maybe you can try that when the country’s on fire. It isn’t.
The Democrats cannot go to the voters with a straight face and tell us that the country has lived down to Paul Krugman’s notorious 12:42 a.m. prediction on November 9, 2016: “If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.” Trump has so much winning to boast about, and boasting is not something he’s bad at. Democrats would prefer the Dow Jones Industrial Average had gone the way of the San Francisco 49ers defense and that unemployment stood at 117 percent, but in politics you play the hand you’re dealt. Things are good. People have noticed. The case against Trump must, on present trends, rest on his behavior and personality. Yet if Pelosi would have us believe that Trump has shattered all norms, abandoned all restraint, and sullied his high office, those claims seem hollow if she’s ripping up paper like a first-grader refusing a homework assignment. Pelosi herself acknowledged her blunder by hastily sending out a tweet echoing, in effect, the eternal childish lament, “He started it!” In the tweet she claimed she had proffered the “hand of friendship” and sadly been denied. Please. The midst of an unnecessary and doomed impeachment proceeding is not the time to wrap yourself in the fleece of bipartisanship. If Donald Trump wants to insult you, he won’t be shy about it. At worst the no-handshake moment was a split-second of awkwardness out of a tea party in an Edith Wharton novel, not roast-your-enemies-over-an-open-flame Trumpism.
Remember the word “normalize” and the urgent cries that we must not apply this to Trump? Remember how the idea persisted even after the American people made Trump our president? The more Democrats do things like tear up SOTU speeches or flounce out of the chamber while they’re being delivered (as Congress members Bill Pascrell, Tim Ryan, and Rashida Tlaib did, with Tlaib going so far as to declare herself “triggered” like a sophomore majoring in Advanced Veganism), the less normal they look. If everyone’s going to put on Joker makeup and sow bedlam in the streets, how does that isolate Trump? If both sides are being childish, why not go with the child who has delivered record-low unemployment and record highs in the stock market instead of the children who want to rejigger the health-insurance system again?
The way to rule Trumpism out of bounds is not to proclaim, “I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him” (Joe Biden), to read a comedy rewrite of Trump’s Ukraine phone call into the Congressional record (Adam Schiff) or huff out of the room like Miss Piggy when the president is praising veterans. Remember when backbencher Joe Wilson shouting, “You lie!” during a 2009 Obama speech was the most shocking breach of decorum anyone could recall? How does that compare with the Speaker of the House turning human paper shredder right behind the president’s shoulder? Trump broke Pelosi. Or maybe she just broke herself.