The Democrats’ Moment of Truth 5/19/19

This piece ran in newspapers and on liberal websites in the latter part of May, 2019.


In America we’ve come to a moment of truth that, I’ve come to realize, requires me to shift my focus from the defects on the Republican side to those on the Democratic side.

For a long time, my primary concern in my weekly op/eds has been the terrible transformation of conservative America. In particular, I’ve felt compelled to address those “conservative” Americans whose political consciousness has degraded to the point where they can watch Donald Trump being President and like what they see.

America cannot be politically healthy, I fear, even after Trump has left the scene, until that portion of America’s citizenry is animated in their politics much more by the better angels of their nature.

But that’s a long-term worry.

Much more immediate is the crucial battle now coming to a head between presidential lawlessness and the system our founders gave us based on the rule of law.

And in this moment of truth, the urgent question is whether the Democratic side is ready to meet its historic challenge.

It is a given that the great majority of the Republican base will stick with this lawless President, regardless.

More to the point, it is a given that Trump will fight this battle all out. Trump’s across-the-board effort to obstruct the Mueller Report since its release shows clearly that he will fight all the way — figuratively, will fight to the death — to prevent being held accountable.

What is worryingly unclear is whether the Democrats will show equal resolve and fortitude in fulfilling their oath of office to protect our constitutional order.

The asymmetry between Trump’s all-out waging of his side of this battle, and the Democrats’ fearful, hesitant waging of their side, could hardly be clearer.

(And that asymmetry – between the relentless pressing of the battle from the Republican side, and the Democrats’ failure to match that Republican intensity – repeats the pattern that has been evident for a generation. Old habits clearly die hard.)

While Trump pulls out all the stops in unprecedented ways, the Democrats are measured, pondering their options, holding back on the full exercise of their powers. And what’s worse, they seem to think that restraint to be a virtue.

How can hesitancy be a virtue, when the stakes are as House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler aptly described them: “Now is the time of testing whether we can keep a republic, or whether this republic is destined to change into a different, more tyrannical form of government, as other republics have over the centuries.”

So at stake is what generations of Americans have held sacred.

What the hero does is jump between the evil-doer and the sacred thing that needs protection, heedless of personal danger. But – unheroically – too many Democratic leaders are publicly talking about their personal danger. “What about 2020?” they worry.

The Democrats are more fearful of losing than wholeheartedly determined to win the battle their oath of office requires them to fight.

That fearfulness not only makes the Democrats hesitant to fulfill their sacred promise, it also blinds them to their political opportunity.

I would wager that — if the Democrats overcame their own habitual defects in pressing this battle and in reaching and moving the American people — a substantial majority of the American people would come through just fine. But one consequence of the Democrats’ habitual fearfulness seems to be a lack of faith in the American people.

The need for impeachment could hardly be clearer. (And for more reasons than for those “multiple felonies” that more than 800 former Justice Department officials – both Republican and Democrat – have publicly declared that the Mueller Report demonstrates that Trump has committed.)

But the fearful Democrats seem to lack confidence that the preponderance of the American people – when presented the picture of the clear threat this President poses to our constitutional order – will be moved to want Trump impeached in order to protect what they care about.
That’s despite the fact that already 45% of Americans favor impeachment– a very strong start.

Imagine how foul would be the taste in the voters’ mouths if – after Trump’s crimes and corruption have been clearly displayed – they then saw the Republicans in Congress protecting Trump and betraying the nation.

This, I believe, is an opportunity for the Democrats to gain a political advantage over the Republicans comparable to what they got when FDR’s New Deal, combined with Hoover’s Depression, gave the nation a Democratic majority for almost a generation.

But the Democrats continually act as though they don’t see the opportunity in this moment, but only see dangers. (Trump is trying to “goad” them into impeaching, says Speaker Pelosi.)

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

So yes, it’s important for America’s conservatives to undergo some redemptive change in their political spirit. But the urgent need is for liberals and Democrats to set aside the habits of fear and weakness and meet the challenge of this dangerous moment.

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