Washington • Let me get this straight. President Trump and his associates treat politics like a back-alley knife fight, but his critics are supposed to pretend it’s a garden party? I don’t think so.
Those who see the Trump administration as an abomination have many things to spend their time worrying about — most urgently, turning out a massive anti-Trump vote in the November election that gives Democrats control of one or both houses of Congress. Whether the resistance behaves less than graciously to Trump and his accomplices — including his water-carriers in Congress — is far down the list.
I’m not advocating rudeness for rudeness’s sake or a blanket policy of denying Trump aides their supper, as happened recently to press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But folks, get a grip. Stop all the hyperventilation and self-flagellation about how the Red Hen incident, and any further instances of incivility, could doom prospects for a “blue wave” in November and perhaps even re-elect Trump in 2020. Banish any thought of turning the other cheek in the coming fight over Justice Anthony Kennedy’s replacement on the Supreme Court. Don’t get mired in paralysis by analysis.
This sort of thing is just what Trump wants, go the anguished wails. He’ll use it to fire up his supporters and inspire them to turn out in November.
Well, of course he will. Trump was inevitably going to seize — or concoct — some pretext to try to inflame the Make America Great Again crowd. He has sky-high approval among Republicans, but polls have consistently shown that Democrats have more enthusiasm for voting in the midterms — and Trump’s approval among Democrats and independents is historically low. Stirring up passion that brings out the base in big numbers is the president’s only play. And that’s something he happens to be good at.
A political strategy based on the idea that being unfailingly polite will somehow lull Trump supporters into a non-voting stupor is ridiculous. Trump is already out there holding rallies, whipping crowds into a frenzy of victimhood. Two years later, he’s still railing against Hillary Clinton and calling for her to be locked up. Two years later, true believers still chant and cheer.
The assumption must be that Trump’s most loyal followers will indeed vote in November. Democrats need to understand that walking on eggshells — being unfailingly nice, declining to call out racism masquerading as economic anxiety, never uttering the word “impeachment” — isn’t going to make the people at those rallies like them.
What Democrats need to do is boost their normally anemic midterm turnout, and that means channeling the anti-Trump fervor we’ve seen in massive nationwide demonstrations against racism and in favor of women’s rights, sensible gun control and compassionate immigration policy. Millions of voters are ready and willing to fight for an inclusive, forward-looking vision of America. Democrats have to show they are ready and willing to lead the battle.
That is why there must be no meek acquiescence to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to quickly confirm Kennedy’s replacement. It doesn’t take a very long memory to recall how McConnell, using power in a way that would have made Machiavelli proud, robbed Barack Obama of a Supreme Court appointment that was rightfully his. Democrats should be every bit as unyielding toward Trump, taking full advantage of the Senate’s arcane rules to delay and obstruct.
Unless Trump nominates some total nut case who is unacceptable to some GOP senators, Democrats almost surely will lose this battle. But they must wage it nonetheless, if only to demonstrate that they can be as resolute and uncompromising as Republicans consistently are.
Ultimately, whether before or after the election, Trump will get to nominate the next justice — and he or she is likely to be more reliably conservative than Kennedy. The implications are far-reaching, long-lasting and depressingly harmful to the nation’s progress toward inclusion and fairness.
The way to mitigate and ultimately undo that damage is to win elections.
The Republican Party is a mess, riven by ideological divisions and in thrall to an ignorant and erratic president whose only priority is feeding his gluttonous ego. But the GOP has been single-minded and brutally effective in the acquisition, wielding and maintenance of political power, both at the national and state levels. The result is that Republicans have been able to impose a wide range of policies that most Americans oppose.
The remedy is not for progressives to choose their words oh-so-carefully and hope no one takes offense. It is to be loud and clear — and tough as nails — in fighting back.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.