Although it is becoming ever clearer that the Trump Presidency is a vile and destructive interlude in American politics, the Democratic Party deserves a healthy dose of blame for this development. The Democrats did not create Mr. Trump, but as Thomas Frank clearly shows in his Listen, Liberal polemic, they did a lot to create his support. And their opposition to his nominees and his actions continues to demonstrate an almost unbelievable level of incompetence.
This is especially clear in contrast to the Republican assaults on President Obama and his programs. Republicans on TV or in the media endlessly repeated a few simple lines from a common script, driving home a clear, simple, and unified message. “The [you name it] is a disaster, a handout to the undeserving [cheats, immigrants, welfare queens, etc.].” Or, in support, they would unanimously chant: “The [you name it handout to the rich and powerful] will create jobs, reduce the deficit, fight terrorism, etc.”
But even this morning, March 22, when a Democratic Congressman came on the news to oppose the Republican anti-healthcare bill, he obviously had no script, gave hardly any reasons for his opposition, and essentially wasted his 2 minutes of airtime on worthless comments. Each Democrat, in other words, is on his own. No coaching, no script, just make it up as you go along. It’s as if all they’ve got is a pickup team to oppose one that is well coached and highly practiced.
Why are the Democrats so pathetic in their politicking? I think a crucial factor is the difference in ideology. Republicans, from the time of Reagan, have come to unite behind a pretty simple concept of opposition and destruction. They deny the existence of a national community (in older times, called the Union) except in the realm of security—defense, spying, policing, and perhaps the enforcement of Christian morals. For those who agree with that ideology, it’s easy to unite in favor of almost any policy that supports the armed services or undermines, delays, or destroys other federal programs.
Democrats, on the other hand, believe that national community action can make life a lot better for everyone. But for those who agree with this ideology, it does not follow that they will all like any particular program. While it’s simple to destroy things, the process of creating or improving them on a national level is very complex. It leaves plenty of room for disagreement, and to support any one program does only a little to advance the overall ideology. So united support is difficult to gain, while unity in opposition comes far more easily.