On November 6, 2018, Democrats propelled by the energy of a tentative progressive coalition overwhelmed Trump Republicans, winning 40 seats in the U.S. House, reclaiming 367 of the 1,000 state legislative seats lost during the Obama years and captured six governorships. All in all, a great night, but a great night with limitations.
The win was pivotal, like winning game five of a seven-game series when you’re trailing three games to one. In that situation, winning game five is critical, but not determinative. You won’t win the series unless you win game seven, and you can’t play game seven unless you win game six.
Game six in this series is 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, with the Democrats newly in control of the U.S. House of Representatives. In order to win this game, Democrats and their progressive base will need to be emotionally detached, tactically disciplined and strategically focused on policy.
Why emotional detachment?
Politics is a form of combat, and success in combat requires you to function at your highest intellectual capacity. Emotion is the enemy of reason because it impairs judgment. The legitimate animas that progressives (all decent people, really) have toward Trump and his right-wing Republican minions is understandable, but not helpful to the task at hand. This game six will require a level of mental clarity that emotional engagement will prevent. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. As Don Corleone advises, never hate your enemies.
What does it mean to be tactically disciplined? It means you never focus on the monkey when your business is with the organ grinder. In this situation, Trump is the monkey getting all the public attention, and the Republicans are the organ grinder who created the economic, political and social morass of the last 40 years.
Republicans have run a hugely successful con game since the 1980s. They have convinced working people that if already rich white men get richer, their lives will get better, especially if you’re white. They even convinced Democrats; Clinton-era Democrats did as much damage to marginalized communities as Reagan on his worst day. When have low taxes on the rich and small government ever enriched the lives of everyday people?
The Democratically controlled House will need a tight focus on executing two tactical objectives: Congressional oversight and legislation.
The oversight function should have an objective of exposing Trump, not removing him. If the Democratic House were to impeach him, the Republican-controlled Senate will never remove him. That would mean you spent precious time and political capital on a feel-good exercise that creates no advantage. The object of the oversight function should be to expose the incompetence and moral bankruptcy of Trump and his entire administration, and create a situation where Republicans have to defend him or indict him. Democrats must spend the next 18 months forcing Republicans to choose between their base and the rest of America.
Democrats need a vision that speaks to the needs of working and marginalized Americans, and that vision will have to manifest itself as policy that’s turned into legislation by a Democratically controlled House of Representatives. To win an election, any election, you have to stand for something. What are some things Democrats should stand for?
Here are some legislative suggestions: voting rights/voter suppression, health care, climate change, affordable higher education, a down payment on infrastructure, and something specifically targeted for small town and rural America. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to make the House, through Regular Order, stay in session to produce legislation that can be debated and voted on by the full House.
None of these bills will probably be considered in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, but that will be what the 2020 fight (game 7) is all about. Democrats must spend 2019 and early 2020 forcing Republicans to choose between supporting legislation that directly and principally supports working Americans, thereby alienating their oligarch funders, or oppose the legislation and expose their hostility for the welfare of average Americans.
Good basketball coaches will tell you the key to winning any game is controlling the tempo. In politics, tempo is the political narrative. Control the narrative and you probably win the game; however, if you don’t control the narrative, you will certainly lose the game.
Also, Democrats and Progressives must understand who the real political enemy is, and it’s not Donald Trump. It’s Republicans and their insidious ideology that rationalizes the oppression of working people and minorities. Properly understood and in the hands of competent political professionals, Trump is a Democratic asset and a Republican liability.
Mike Jones is a former senior staffer in St. Louis city and county government and current member of the Missouri State Board of Education and The St. Louis American editorial board. In 2016 and 2017, he was awarded Best Serious Columnist for all of the state’s large weeklies by the Missouri Press Association, and in 2018 he was awarded Best Serious Columnist in the nation by the National Newspapers Association.