When he’s finished putting down your dog, Trump is going to take away your health care, raise your taxes, eliminate your job, take away your right to an abortion, limit your right to vote, turn your air and water brown, cut your Social Security and Medicare, and tell you if you don’t like it, you can leave.
This article first appeared in Salon
It doesn’t matter who’s the nominee. This is the message Democrats have to carry to the country in 2020. Is it an exaggeration? A scare tactic? Are you kidding? We already know all this stuff is true, and we don’t need “facts” to surmise that if given half a chance Trump and his minions will find some way to make euthanizing shelter animals easier and more profitable. For Donald Trump and the Republican Party he leads, money and cruelty is who they are. It’s what they do.
Democrats had better wake up to the fact that the 2020 campaign, on every level from the presidential race on down, is going to take place in the gutter. It’s long past time to take the gloves off. Republicans never put them on. They’ve been out there stealing, lying and cheating their way into office for decades. They don’t have a concept of playing fair. They play dirty. They play to win. They’ll do anything it takes to do it.
They’ve already gerrymandered electoral districts so that Democrats get a majority of the vote and a minority of House seats like they do in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina. They’ve passed laws restricting the right to vote in 25 states since 2010, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voting laws. Fifteen states have more restrictive voter ID requirements, and ten have passed laws making it harder for citizens to register to vote. Every state with new voting restrictions is controlled by Republicans, and a Republican-backed lawsuit succeeded in defenestrating the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. And I hardly need to go into what they’ve done to campaign finance laws. Mitt Romney’s cri de coeur in 2012, “Corporations are people too!” is all you need to know.
Now they’re floating shit like this: all Democrats are Socialists. That whiny little Trump-pilot-fish Lindsey Graham recently asserted that AOC and the rest of the “Squad” are communists. Every other time Trump opens his mouth he’s chirping that Democrats are for “open borders.” They’re out there daily pushing the lie that Democrats want to come right into your homes and take away your guns. And don’t you know that they’ll get around to some bullshit about how Democrats want ISIS to win in Syria and Iraq and then they’ll turn Afghanistan over to the Taliban.
Do you think Republicans care if it’s all complete bullshit? Hell no. They’re going to run on this crap, and anything else they can think up over the next 15 months, and they’re going to laugh all the way to the ballot box. You want to know what else Trump and his lily-livered bunch of chicken hawks are going to do? They’re going to sell the idea that Donald Trump, who had five draft deferments, skipped out of Vietnam with his bone spurs, capitulated to Vladimir Putin at Helsinki, writes “love letters” to Kim Jung Un, ripped babies out their mothers arms along the southern border, and has been charged by multiple women with rape as well as sexual assault is a tough guy.
I’ll wait for you to reach down and pick your jaw up from the floor on that one. You okay now? Is your jaw reattached?
Here’s why Republicans are pushing the lie that Trump is a tough guy. Because it works. Historian Rick Perlstein, author of a series of books on the rise of Republican conservatism, was interviewed in The New Yorker last week and said something I think the Democratic Party has forgotten over the last decade or so. “Toughness is a core primary value,” Perlstein said, referring to red states that Democrats have failed to carry in recent elections. “All of us remember 2004, when George W. Bush won reelection explicitly on this rationale of saying we know people disagree with his issue positions, but we are going to position him as the guy who sticks with his gut no matter what.”
Sound familiar? Bush, who famously avoided Vietnam by joining the Air Force National Guard and then failed to show up for duty during the war years, was sold as “tough.” Ronald Reagan was awarded the Bronze Star for Toughness when he yelled out that he “paid for this microphone” at some long-forgotten debate in New Hampshire in 1980. And now we’ve got Donald Trump, whose boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy” on the infamous Access Hollywood tape is what passes for Republican toughness today.
The appearance by a real-life tough guy on Capitol Hill got me thinking about what the Democrats’ problem has been when it comes to this “toughness” thing. Robert Mueller, a Marine veteran of Vietnam who earned a Bronze Star medal and a Purple Heart, has been roundly criticized for his halting and seemingly imprecise testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees this week. The contrast between the serious, taciturn Mueller and such bellowing “bomb throwers” as Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio couldn’t have been starker.
Mueller’s problem on Wednesday is the same as the problem Democrats have when they run for office. Mueller was careful, nuanced, and he stuck to the facts. His testimony, when it came right down to it, was imperfect in the way that any sane person must be if he or she is bound by a sense of duty, propriety, and an urge to abide by accepted norms. He came across as a somewhat reluctant, hesitant witness, while if you read his testimony, he was anything but. He was measured, he was accurate, and he was truthful.
Republicans on the two committees were almost uniformly the opposite. Their speechifying and questioning was impertinent, premised on lies, and intended to distract from the truth. In short, they conducted themselves at the Mueller hearings in the manner that they run for office.
There is a lesson Democrats running for office can learn from the Mueller hearings. It does you little good to stick to the rules of good order and behavior when the other side has abandoned both. I’m not saying that Democrats should adopt Republican ways by joining them in lying, cheating and stealing. But I am saying that Democrats can learn something from Republican imprecision.
Take health care as just one example. Ever since the debates over Obamacare, Democrats have been lost in a blizzard of confusing and often contradictory details about how to handle the nation’s healthcare crisis. Obamacare was an imperfect compromise, and now they’re torn between defending a muddled status quo or going for one variation or another on Medicare for all, and nobody really understands one plan from another. Meanwhile, Republicans have spent the last several decades firing potshots at Democrats and proposing no plan of their own.
How about this: what if Democrats took a page out of the Republican playbook and simply said, “Don’t worry, you can trust us. We’re going to take care of your health care.” That’s the plan, the whole thing. It would have the advantage of being both simple and true. They could apply this approach across the board. Here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to lower your taxes, raise your pay, protect your jobs, reduce your student loan payments, protect Social Security and Medicare, maintain your right to an abortion, reform the immigration laws, and protect the southern border. And we’re going to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What plan do we have for all of this? You know us, we’re on your side, and we’re going to do what we say.
Pick a side and stick with it. Take a stand and don’t retreat. Don’t be intimidated by the size of the problems or the messy imperfections of what it takes to establish an honest government and pay for it honestly and run it honestly so that problems can actually be solved. Don’t get lost in the weeds of plans and white papers, and for crying out loud, stop giving Republicans a leg up by squabbling and nitpicking at each other. You’re Democrats, not suicide bombers.
You want to know what toughness is in this election year? Republicans tell lies and cheat to win. We don’t. Republicans stand by a racist president. We stand up to him and call him what he is. Republicans will take your health insurance away. We’ll protect it. Republicans are the party of Donald Trump. We’re the party of democracy and the American way.
We love this country. We’re not going anywhere but the ballot box and we’re going to vote, and we’re going to beat your sorry, lying ass.