We can only save ourselves
So now the Mueller report has been submitted, and with news emerging that he is recommending no further indictments, Democrats are barely mentioning it anymore, while Trump supporters are praising it. Quite a turnaround.
In retrospect, this result was probably easily anticipated (and in fact, I had considered writing a post a few days ago suggesting that this result is what we should expect — events overtook me). Where some progressives have been touting Mueller’s report for months, you can almost hear the disappointment in their roaring silence.
Mueller is a very careful prosecutor. His conscientiousness is part of what progressives have touted while Trump spouted invective. The bar for a responsible prosecutor to file criminal charges against someone is high, however. The prosecutor must have a good faith belief that he or she can prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Mueller must have felt that he could not meet that bar with any further charges.
To be sure, this special counsel investigation is probably the most productive in history, racking up convictions and guilty pleas against 34 individuals and three companies, including many very close to the President himself. What we can piece together from his court filings is a damning indictment of this presidency. Mueller will go down in history as one of the good guys, quite unlike the nakedly partisan Ken Starr.
But barring a recording of Trump talking on the phone with Putin about how to illegally sway the 2016 election to the Republicans, that 40% of the country that considers themselves true MAGAers would never be convinced. If you have tried to discuss the issues with a Trump supporter, you know that facts don’t matter. They have decided that they support him, and then cherry-pick the facts, even making some up, to bolster their position. Anything that undermines their beliefs is dismissed as “fake news.”
That 40% who are his hard-core supporters are unequally distributed: they are disproportionately found among Republican primary voters. Indeed, the only group that currently views Trump favorably is Republicans, and their support is nearly unanimous. The result is that Republican Senators are afraid to buck Trump for fear of encouraging a primary challenge. As Mark Sanford learned, this is not a baseless fear.
So this is where things stand realistically. Mueller ran an investigation that was beyond reproach, it was very successful, and very damning regarding Trump. But it was never going to result in charges against Trump himself — that was just a bridge too far. Prosecutors in New York and elsewhere will likely continue to investigate, but the Department of Justice has taken the position that a sitting President cannot be indicted. And the ultimate remedy for a criminal presidency, impeachment and removal from office, will never succeed as long as Republicans control the Senate.
So where does that leave things for the Democrats? In truth, it should redirect our attention where it should have been all along: Trump’s real vulnerability. He is an amoral jerk who routinely diminished the highest office in our land. But what really matters to people is how he affects their daily lives.
From a policy perspective, his administration is a train-wreck. Supermajorities oppose him on nearly every issue, from tax cuts to the rich to cutting Medicare and Social Security to eliminating health care coverage for millions of Americans. In the 2018 midterm election, Democrats won not by attacking Trump personally, deserving as he may be of such attacks, but by suggesting an alternative agenda emphasizing the welfare of the majority over the very rich.
The Republicans fear that Democrats will take that path. In 2018, they blatantly lied about their positions on health care to brunt the Democrats’ attacks. They tried to divert attention away from their policies by manufacturing a crisis at the border — one that amazingly dissipated right after the election was over.
Wag the dog comes to life
Nowadays, truth is stranger than fiction. At least in the movie, people had to believe the story
Now their current strategy is to label anything Democrats advocate as “socialist” and suggest that these policies take us on the road to Venezuela. If Democrats decide to engage in this discussion, they will lose. Name-calling is a specialty of Donald Trump’s — it’s the one thing he’s good at and we can’t beat him at it. Instead, we need to stay laser-focused on the issues that really matter to people and how the Republicans have failed them.
What issues? Infrastructure. Health care. Social Security and Medicare. Tax cuts for the rich. Even climate change as an issue is starting to gain traction. Democrats have some Presidential candidates with serious bona fides on these issues. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are well-known for their record fighting economic inequality. Pete Buttigieg and Jay Inslee have made climate change and concern for the future central to their campaigns.
The irony is that where the media and Democratic activists are making much about the ideological divide among Democrats, the party and its candidates are actually amazingly unified. Candidates as diverse as Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker all agree that health care needs to be universal. There may be a disagreement as to whether that goal should be achieved by eliminating private insurance companies altogether or by expanding Obamacare, that disagreement is just noise to most voters. What matters is if Americans can get affordable healthcare, and on that point, Democrats are of one mind. More importantly, Republicans are directly opposed to both Democrats and to most Americans.
Republicans will continue to engage in name-calling or creating red herrings like whether the Green New Deal will stop people from eating hamburgers (it won’t). They will continue to create noise about supposed crises that will ultimately never materialize. They will decry any potential prosecution as a “witch hunt.” What they don’t want to talk about are the issues. And that is where Democrats can win.
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