Leonard Pitts: Has our democracy hit an iceberg?

Democrats don’t seem to understand that you can’t negotiate with today’s Republicans.

(Anna Moneymaker | The New York Times via AP) In this Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, photo, Capitol Police officers pay respects to the late U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick as an urn with his cremated remains lies in honor on a black-draped table at the center of the Capitol Rotunda in Washington.

One wonders sometimes if the Democrats really get it.

As needed voting-rights reform goes down in flames because some of them thought it more important to defend the filibuster than the ballot, there arises an uneasy conviction that the party does not quite grasp the gravity of the moment, the urgency of the emergency.

The filibuster is a vital safeguard, yes. So was the crow’s nest on Titanic. But once the ship plowed into that iceberg, its importance was sharply diminished, and other priorities emerged.

Has our democracy hit an iceberg? Well, let’s put it like this: For a representative government to function requires at least two political parties that, while offering competing visions, both occupy the same reality and play by the same rules.

This country no longer has that. Rather, it has the Democrats and the Donald Trump Fan Club the Republicans have become.

Too many Democratic lawmakers seem not to understand this. They don’t get that you can no more negotiate with a cult of personality than you can with a shattered window, can no more seek “bipartisanship” with it than you can with a smear of excrement on a wall.

So one hopes they noted a character-clarifying encounter last week between D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone and Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde. Fanone voluntarily rushed to help Capitol Police defend against the Jan. 6 insurrection by GOP voters insisting that Trump won an election he lost. In the battle, he was beaten and repeatedly stun-gunned, suffering a traumatic brain injury and a mild heart attack as a result. He also has PTSD.

Clyde is one of those Fanone fought to save. Though there are photos of the lawmaker trying to barricade the House chamber against invaders, he is also one of those who has downplayed the severity of the attack, even likening it to “a normal tourist visit.” He joined 20 other Republicans in voting against awarding police the Congressional Gold Medal.

Fanone, who has been an outspoken critic of efforts to whitewash the riot, spotted Clyde at the Capitol and stepped into an elevator with him. He told The Washington Post that he greeted the lawmaker and extended a hand. “I knew immediately he recognized me by the way he reacted. He completely froze. He just stared at me.”

Fanone says that instead of accepting the proffered handshake, Clyde produced a cellphone and began thumbing through apps. When the doors opened, he says, Clyde bolted like the car was on fire.

There is something viscerally disgusting in this lying coward sprinting away from a handshake. But all of us need to be clear on one crucial point: Clyde is not some bizarre outlier but, rather, the beating heart of a GOP in thrall to Trump.

For them, his approval justifies all transgressions: lying, hypocrisy, corruption. So Clyde’s alleged behavior — which he has yet to deny — is emblematic not simply of his failings as a person, but of his party’s failings as a governing partner. And the refusal to treat all this as critical, requiring boldness, innovation and risk, is emblematic, too — of the Democrats’ moral constipation in the face of an existential crisis. There is nothing high-minded at this point about seeking common ground with the GOP.

Think about it: Michael Fanone is a hero, full stop. Any of us should be honored to shake his hand, and if he risked his life trying to save yours, you should be doubly so, ideology be hanged.

If that’s not a bipartisan belief, then maybe no such thing still exists.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. lpitts@miamiherald.com