Democrats knew that the 2016 election was an election we really could not afford to lose. We knew that losing would have existential repercussions for the party, the way the American future would play out, and even for American democracy itself. We let ourselves be divided and that would only have worked out fine in the old America. This is not that America. How far will Dems go to fix the balance of power in America?
We knew what the Republicans had been doing to “fix” elections, although we had no clue that Russian assistance would be enlisted. We lamented the Citizens United and related decisions that have flooded elections with corporate money and influence, and offered “creative” ways for the wealthiest Americans to have an outsize influence through PAC’s and 501(c)s, or nonprofits. We know that Conservatives want to extend this financial influence on elections to churches and that there is legislation already written to do just that.
We have watched Conservatives turn the courts (Federal and Supreme) into partisan bodies that would uphold their assault on previous court decisions. We knew about their assaults on abortion clinics, their insistence that America follow their Fundamentalist Christian rules and ban abortions by overturning Roe v Wade, and their refusal to accept that women’s bodies should be controlled by women. Stuffing courts with Conservatives would help in this regard and in many other places the Republican Party wanted to go. They played with the voting rules in the Senate, they obstructed in the House, and they refused to confirm Obama’s legal appointment to the Supreme Court when Judge Alito died an untimely death. Now they are having a field day confirming fairly young, unqualified people to as many lifetime court positions as they can, while they can, and crying foul if Democrats use the same procedures to slow down confirmations that the Republicans previously found so useful.
We have noted all the voter suppression techniques such as extreme gerrymandering that made it almost impossible to elect anyone except a Republican in some Congressional districts (enough to turn Congress red?). We were shocked when the Supremes removed the pre-clearance requirements from the Voting Rights Act which allowed states to change voter laws in ways that negatively affected minority voters more than white voters. We were incredulous when the GOP claimed that they were not being racist; they just wanted to suppress Democrat votes. (It suddenly became the fashion to drop the “-ic” from the word Democratic when using the party name as an adjective because it connected the Democrats too closely to our form of government.) (It also became fashionable to stress that our government is actually a republic as this made the Republican Party the truest representative of American governance.)
We knew all this but all we did was whine, complain, call attention to these behaviors, fight among ourselves, and appear weak. We seemed not to understand that these bad behaviors were symptoms of a party that was making a serious power play. Reactions of Dems fell far short of any effective strategy of resistance. Dems were all talk, little action through all the Obama years. We relied on Obama’s popularity and his elegant statesmanship to win the day, although we all were privy to the hateful undertones in the nation.
We heard the GOP talking points, over and over. We knew the Republicans wanted to use a “tough love” approach to end social programs – no help with food for the poor, no public healthcare, no support for the disabled, no social security for seniors, no housing for the poor, no public schools. America could not afford to have a heart, apparently. They reminded us that none of these things are functions of the federal government according to our founding documents and they insisted these programs should end. States could provide for these needs if they wished (although the right knew the states could not afford to do this). Or they could be privatized.
The GOP saw the resentment building in the workers whose factories had fled, or whose livelihoods had become obsolete because of environmental damage, and they invited them aboard the bandwagon by agreeing that taxes were being used to give aid to people who did not deserve it. Soon it became as if we had all decided to eliminate social goals from our national agenda instead of just being a decision reached within the conservative web of right-wing organizations, foundations, and think tanks centered around wealthy Republicans donors like the Kochs.
Democrats spoke out against this rather Darwinistic view of society but they seemed powerless against the aggressive strategies on the right, the loudest voices in the land at the time. Dems relied on “regular order” and a moderate stance to eventually “break the fever” on the right. Dems appeared to be almost intimidated by the Tea Party’s seemingly overwhelming power over the Republican Party. This could be partially because Democrats are lovers of grassroots politics, and also due to their failure to see the connection of the Tea Party to the white supremacy that was simmering in right wing teapots. Dems did nothing but talk, believing all this would run its course. When people pointed out that the right was mounting a kind of bloodless coup, those people were labeled as extremists.
It was becoming clear that there was a Constitutional argument being fomented. Conservatives decided that America had moved too far from our forefathers’ intentions. They wanted to go all Fundamentalist on American governance – back to the basics. On the left this was seen as unrealistic. It could be seen as an expedient argument used by Republicans to pull out the old states’ rights drumbeat that they had used so successfully (when they were the Democratic Party) to end Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War.
Giving in to this states’ rights stance allowed the racist treatment of Americans of African Descent to continue into the 1960’s (and even to this day) and allowed the defeated Confederacy to nurse their resentment, and their white supremacist attitudes – to continue to see themselves as righteous rebels. This is the rebellion that is still affecting us now. It is the true reason for the rabid defense of the NRA and the encouragement of militia movements. These Republicans/Conservatives planned either to take over the American government from within, or without (rebellion) if necessary. Right now they are doing pretty well with their “from within” set of tools.
The Democrats were not even considering a new war. We were taken somewhat by surprise. Try to find a Dem militia, but I warn you it will prove to be difficult to impossible. However, Democrats also were finding nothing in the Constitution to help them against this organized rebellion that used tactics which were not strictly against established custom and law, but which certainly challenged the spirit of American customs and laws. Democrats did not see that the Republicans could win all by simply killing the Democratic Party and turning America into a single-party government. Such an action is not against our founding documents since parties did not exist when America was born. (Although it did not take long for parties to form.)
There is so much more to the GOP strategy and we have been witnesses to all of it. For example, there was the skewing of the media until some of it was not news at all but merely propaganda, which happened right before our eyes. It was allowed because of how much we treasure everyone’s right to free speech. Perhaps we could have argued sooner that people had the right to say what they wanted to but did not have the right to pass off lies and conspiracy theories as facts or news. We did not react strongly enough in the face of this onslaught. How many governments have been overturned because some of the people in power wanted to stay the course and believed they would eventually win the day; they believed justice was on their side and would prevail?
The Democrats let the Republican Party demonize our best people. Email server unorthodoxy seems a bit tame compared to behaviors power-mad Republicans excuse now. I am guilty here also because I thought America was ready for a female President. I did not think it would be fair to eliminate a woman who had been unfairly tainted (as all powerful women are these days). I refused to see how seriously she had been damaged. Maybe Progressive promises would have been the perfect counterpart to regressive rhetoric. We might have been better off fighting fire with fire. The middle road held too little appeal and too many people bought what the Republican Party was selling. None of this should strip away the guilt of liberals who would not vote against Trump and the Republicans. Still, once the Republicans were left with Trump we may have been “royally” screwed no matter what.
How convinced are the Democrats that their policies will make a more live-able future than what Republicans have to offer? How far are we willing to go to make it so? If our hopes for a blue wave in 2018 are dashed, what’s next? If it looks like our Democracy really will become an autocracy will we resist more aggressively, or slide down into a dictatorship and live quietly underground until it dies, as all dictatorships eventually do? These are terrible decisions to be faced with and yet they may have to be made with no formal forum in which to design a deliberate plan. I do not feel a “fighting” spirit uniting the Democrats yet, in case the resistance is ineffective. Although the majority of Americans lean left we could soon find ourselves living out the Conservative Way. I have no idea what we will do if elections don’t work. We may regret, for a long, long time, that we did not get our act together in 2016.