Columns, Opinions

Steinman ’19: The Blue Wave needs an agenda

By
Opinions Editor
Monday, November 12, 2018

With the Democrats’ long-expected reclamation of the House of Representatives last week, President Trump and his allies certainly anticipate the beginning of a fierce Democratic backlash. Why else fire former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who in the president’s own depiction has failed to adequately “protect” him and his family from the Mueller investigation, the day after the midterm elections? And yet despite the White House’s own defensive maneuvers, the supposed threat, both to Trump himself and to the Republican movement as a whole, could well be overblown. All indications from Nancy Pelosi, the expected new Speaker of the House, suggest the party will meet Republicans in a center that has shifted dramatically to the right. When compared to the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, the incoming Democrats lack a unifying message and strategy to provide the first meaningful checks on Trumpism since 2016. They need to find one, and soon.

Why? California is burning, voter suppression is widespread, journalists are being demonized, mass shootings turn places of joy and community into war zones and Trump’s authoritarian, xenophobic populism continues to isolate the United States from its closest allies. And that’s just in the week since the midterm elections. If elected Democrats can’t find a cause to rally around, whether from that list or from any of the myriad breakdowns our political institutions and our planet are suffering, Trump and his allies really can get away with anything. If they need help picking, let me offer two: the dual degradations of our political system and our climate, both of which are in dire need of rescue.

It’s now time for Democrats to turn up the heat on this fundamentally abnormal presidency. Moderates elected by slim margins in conservative states may protest that their base will object to their involvement in petty politicking, but Trump’s recent actions — the firing of Sessions, his disregard for veterans and the American role in international leadership, his treatment of journalists and attempts to subvert the voting process — represent violations of the Constitution and of core American values. “Moderates” who can’t get behind rebukes of actions like these aren’t really moderates; remember that it was not so long ago that Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said there would be “holy hell to pay” for the firing of Sessions. Standing up to Trump when it comes to the norms of law and governance — which, yes, may involve impeachment if his actions come to that — should be the first thing disparate Democrats can agree on.

While reining in Trump’s worst excesses may be Democrats’ best chance to unite and build a firewall, it is not a substitute for positive action, particularly not on issues where time is of the essence. Climate change has progressed to a point where waiting for the next president to come into power is no longer a viable solution. Things have changed since 2010, when concerted action by right-wing groups made support for climate legislation, particularly the cap-and-trade bill that was on the floor at the time, an effective death sentence for moderate Republicans and vulnerable Democrats. Today, far more Americans (unfortunately, more and more each day) have had personal experiences with climate change or have family members who have. The percentage of Americans who support more government action on climate change is at its highest since 2006, before it became a politicized issue in the form it is today, and a majority support environmental legislation even at the expense of economic growth. The political (and economic, thanks to the falling price of renewable energy) costs of fighting climate change are lower than they have been in over a decade, while the costs of inaction climb every day. With time running out, Democrats should make as much noise as possible on this existential issue.

It has never been more important for Democrats to zero in on an agenda with the modicum of power they now possess. The two issues presented here are the two for which inaction would bear the gravest consequences, for which future generations will look back and wonder why we didn’t do more when we had the chance. Of course, there are other causes where life is on the line: health care, gun violence, police brutality and economic inequality, just to name a few. But these two stand alone in the threats they pose not just to our own country but to the rest of the world. American leadership has dissolved, as the world saw this weekend from a rainy battlefield in France, memorializing the same war that catapulted our nation into global leadership in the first place. Democrats have a chance to salvage the values of our nation, but only with a clear-minded attitude of focus, determination and a willingness to fight hard. Their responsibility on this matter cannot be overstated, and history will remember if they choose capitulation over change.

Clare Steinman ’19 can be reached at clare_steinman@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.