There is a wide gap between words and deeds in American politics – on both sides of the aisle, notes Corey Robin
You’d think that Democrats in Congress would jump at the opportunity to impose a constraint on Donald Trump’s presidency – one that liberals and Democrats alike have characterized as authoritarian. Apparently, that’s not the case.
Despite being in the minority, Democrats last week had enough Republican votes on their side to curb the president’s ability, enhanced since 9/11, to spy on citizens and non-citizens alike.
In the House, a majority of Democrats were willing to join a small minority of Republicans to do just that. But 55 Democrats – including the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi; the minority whip, Steny Hoyer; and other Democratic leaders of the opposition to Trump – refused.
After the House voted for an extension of the president’s power to spy, a group of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans attempted to filibuster the bill. The critical 60th vote to shut down the filibuster was a Democrat.
With the exception of Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept, a press that normally expresses great alarm over Trump’s amassing and abuse of power has had relatively little to say about this vote (or this vote or this vote).
This is despite the fact that the surveillance bill gives precisely the sorts of powers viewers of an Academy Award-winning film about the Stasi from not long so ago would instantly recognize … to a president whose view of the media a leading Republican recently compared to Stalin.
It was left to the Onion to offer the best (and near only) comment:
Pelosi: ‘We Must Fight Even Harder Against Trump’s Authoritarian Impulses Now That We’ve Voted to Enable Them’
Last week, I wrote in these pages how the discourse of Trump’s authoritarianism ignores or minimizes the ways in which democratic citizens and institutions – the media, the courts, the opposition party, social movements – are opposing Trump, with seemingly little fear of intimidation.
But in the same way that discourse of authoritarianism misses the democratic forest for the anti-democratic tweets, so does it focus more on the rhetoric of an abusive man than the infrastructure of an oppressive state, more on the erosion of norms than the material instruments of repression.
Trump is all bully, no pulpit
Critics of Trump often worry about the power of his words, his ability to push public opinion and political practice in his ugly direction. Two reports from this week suggest that sometimes the main effect of Trump’s words is either nil or negative.
- Despite the rhetorical fusillade from Trump against Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Russia connection, despite Trump’s repeated calls to shut the investigation down, a new NPR/PBS poll shows that more than two-thirds of registered voters, including a majority of Republican voters, want Mueller’s investigation to continue.
- One of the effects of Trump’s misogyny – in word and deed – has been to provoke an unprecedented number of women to run for office. The leader of a party that has longed wanted to put women back in the home has potentially doubled the previous record (from 1994) of women entering gubernatorial races and increased the number of likely Democratic female challengers against House incumbents by 350%. Emily’s List reports that the number of women contacting them about running for office jumped from 900 in the year leading up to Trump’s election to 26,000 since that election.
Trump is weaker than we realize
Trump’s regime is far more vulnerable to democratic contestation and opposition than we realize.
In a major upset this past week, voters in Wisconsin’s 10th state senate district elected the Democratic candidate Patty Schachtner, giving her a 10-point victory in a district that went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016 and has been electing Republicans since 2000.
Wisconsin has long served as a bellwether of the possibilities and potency of GOP revanchism. But since 2010, when the rightwinger Scott Walker was elected governor and began taking apart the remnants of progressivism in the state, Wisconsin has provided the national GOP with a toolkit of ever more reactionary programs and policies.
So one of the reddest districts in a red-leaning state has turned blue. Under Trump.
And it’s not just Wisconsin.
As Andrew Prokop reports, there have been 74 special elections for congressional and state legislative seats since Trump’s election. Democrats consistently have out-performed in those elections, improving on their record from 2016 by an average of 11 points, often making their biggest gains in red-state districts won by Trump. The Democrats flipped 14 of those seats (the Republicans have flipped only one). And that doesn’t count, as Prokop notes, regular statewide elections in New Jersey, Virginia, and elsewhere, where Democrats also have done well.
Republicans are losing ground in the war on spending
Meanwhile, virtually no one, save this political scientist at Georgetown, has noticed how much ground the GOP already has lost in its war on spending:
The part of the 2018 budget negotiation that actually deals with substantial money is basically over. Leaders appear to agree on the funding level boost for executive agencies, which since early December has remained relatively stable … Ironically, these numbers are basically the same as the FY2018 House Democratic Budget blueprint. They also represent a big increase over previous budget deals.
The 2013 and 2015 agreements increased the caps by roughly $30 billion. This new emerging deal appears likely to break the caps by an additional $20+ billion.
In other words, a Republican Congress will ultimately fund government at much higher levels than the divided governments did in 2013 and 2015 … House Republicans’ refusal to vote for any bill appearing to increase spending undermines their leverage. Republican leaders are, and have been, forced to rely on Democrats to pass budget deals even in the House.”
One part of the policy table may already have been set – to the Republicans’ detriment.
That’s potentially good news – and the basis not for complacency but a better politics.