If you’re a liberal, Donald Trump’s presidency gives you two choices: fight fiercely against everything conservative or Republican, or find common cause with Republicans against Trump’s excesses. The angry fight will make you feel good for a moment. The rapprochement might save our democracy.
Democrats are about to enter hell. Republicans controls Congress. The new president seems like a Russian agent, a lunatic, and a Twitter troll.
This is intolerable, so you have to do something. So Democrats, liberals, and Trump-haters will be gathering by the hundreds of thousands in cities across America, boycotting the inaugural and donning their pink hats in protest.
If that makes you feel good, go for it. It will demonstrate that there are many, many impassioned Trump opponents in the world.
But what happens next?
The case for friending Republicans
If you are a Democrat or a liberal, do you have Republican friends? You should.
I’m a moderate surrounded by Democrats. My state, Massachusetts, is deep blue. My Facebook feed is pretty blue, too, being made up mostly of technology professionals; residents of Massachusetts, New York, and California; and people I grew up with in the affluent suburbs of Philadelphia.
Among my smartest friends, though, many are Republicans (and in Massachusetts, they need all the friends they can get). We disagree on a lot of stuff. That’s good, because I like to talk with smart people who disagree with me.
My Republicans friends are, for the most part, appalled with Donald Trump. And there lies opportunity.
I’m going to choose a Republican buddy or two. I’ll be asking them about which of Trump’s ideas they agree with (like cutting corporate taxers and regulations), and which they hate (like making friends with Russia or building a wall on the Mexican border). I expect that our conversations will elevate the thinking on both sides. We won’t end up agreeing on many things, but we may find some issues of common cause.
In this upside-down world we’re about to enter, I need to know where Democrat-Republican partisanship ends — because that’s where we can start saving our democracy.
If you’re liberal, do you have a Republican buddy? Get one. Start talking.
I’m just naive enough to think that if this happens around the country — and in Congress — that we might be able to pull ourselves and our president back from the brink.
The case against blind partisanship
Here’s what I hear from some of my liberal friends.
“Trump is Republicans’ fault.”
“Republicans are evil — they brought this on themselves.”
“If you voted Republican, unfriend me, I want nothing to do with you.”
I also see lots of unthinking Democratic partisanship. I have friends who reliably trumpet any negative thing about Republicans, whether verified or not. They support and share anything a Democratic leader says.
These friends have abdicated their responsibility to think. They are as complicit in the world we now live in as the Republicans they demonize. Unthinking voters and citizens are a problem, regardless of ideology.
How do these people imagine that change will happen? Shouting that the other side is evil is what got us here. Will it really get us back to anything resembling a normal democracy?
Cocooning yourself in a partisan blanket feels warm and cozy. But it won’t help us move forward.
Trump terrifies me. That means, to stop him, we need all the friends we can get. And that includes people with whom we have serious ideological disagreements. You don’t need to love them. You just need to work with them.
This is not “normalizing” Trump. (Nobody I know thinks Trump’s behavior is normal.) It is normalizing the rest of politics to stop Trump. It is using normal political means to prevent radicals from taking over.
Republicans leaders have a choice to make
Trump is going to be inaugurated. You can’t stop that.
He’s going to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. He’s going to make executive orders. He’s going to meet with foreign heads of state. Your symbolic protest can’t stop that either.
He may kick the press out of the White House. That’s terrifying. But your terror at all of these activities does very little. He knows a majority of the country opposes him, and a lot of people hate him. And he doesn’t care.
One thing will make a big difference in the next four years: how Republicans, the majority party, act towards Trump. We’re about to see that played out in votes on Trump’s cabinet nominees.
Republican Senators like John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham will need to choose between voting for all of Trump’s nominees, or stopping some of them. Will they vote for Ben Carson, who knows nothing about the job he has been nominated for, as secretary of HUD? Will they vote for Betsy DeVos, who just demonstrated an astounding ignorance about education, as Secretary of Education?
After eight years in the wilderness, Republicans in Congress are giddy with anticipation of actually governing. But as the tricky debate about repealing the Affordable Care Act reveals, implementing the policies they’ve contemplated so long comes with a price. So does having a president who could, at any moment, turn on you.
In many ways, the future of principled Republicans depends on what they do now. Trump will behave irrationally and unsafely, will nominate questionable people and make questionable decisions. Republicans in Congress will have to choose between the expediency of having a Republican in the White House, and the principle of standing up for rationality in government.
Two years from now, everyone in the House and one-third of the Senators will be up for reelection. Die-hard Trump backers will penalize those who oppose him, but rational conservatives will penalize those who support his worst decisions. I think, after seeing the results of two years of Trump rule, the rational voters will win. So Republicans had better get rational now.
That’s why I’m reaching across the aisle today. I want to form a coalition of the rational. And I hope the Republicans in Congress will develop a backbone and do the same.