Get a Grip

It’s a little over a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, and supporters like me are positively giddy so far that there is, to use the cliché, a new sheriff in town and he’s making the effort to keep his promises.  Of course, he could just stand around like a wax figure from Madame Tussaud’s and still be more politically effective than the self-destructive Democratic opposition these days, whose chronic surliness and conspiracy theory-mongering have relegated the party to irrelevancy. One look at Nancy Pelosi’s face during Trump’s address to Congress encapsulates the despair among Democrats.

Amusingly, though progressives often accuse conservatives of being the superstitious, anti-science party, it’s the left that’s brought out a coven of witches to cast a spell on POTUS. So far, though, they appear to be about as good at magic as poor old Aunt Clara was in Bewitched. Conservatives are having a good laugh about the Oscar screw-up when La-La Land was erroneously announced as the Best Picture winner though Moonlight had actually won. It’s been an ongoing joke in conservative circles. Did Trump, with the aid of the Russians, cause the mixup? Was La-La Land’s win stolen? After all, the polls and odds makers said the film was a shoo-in. Did the witches attempt to turn DJT into a toad, only to watch as the spell backfired on all the preachy celebrities? Indeed, while some claim that conservatives are upset that the Trump agenda is stalled, it’s the left that seems chronically miserable and adrift.  

Buck up, people. What happened to all that “Yes, we can!” idealism? Now it’s nothing but negativity since the party of Hope and Change is out of power. But perhaps that’s part of the problem. Democrats—led literally by the celebrities in La-La Land—had their heads so far up in the clouds that they lost the ability to govern. The Democrats under Barack Obama “fundamentally transformed” from the party of the ordinary person into the party of Meryl Streep.

During the Obama years, many conservatives made the same criticisms about Mr. Rock Star POTUS and his groupies that progressives are now making about Trump and his supporters. Issues unlawful executive orders? Check. Skips intelligence briefings? Yep. Cult-of-personality worship? Anyone remember Denver 2008, the Greek columns, and all the fainting and swooning over Mr. Cool?  Have people forgotten Chris Matthews and the “thrill up his leg” and creepy David Brooks’s staring at the elegant crease in Obama’s slacks? (Is this when the term “man crush” was coined?) Democrats don’t like Trump’s war with the media? Perhaps someone should have informed the Obama White House not to fight with the press before he went after Fox News and reporters like James Rosen.

It’s time for some soul-searching and reform within the Democratic Party. To understand conservatives’ support of Trump, it’s necessary to understand the struggle within the Republican party during the eight years of the Obama administration. Democrats would be wise to pay attention to Republicans’ years in the political wilderness to find their own path back to power.  

People know about the emergence of the Tea Party in 2009, but that grassroots movement was just one early element of the intra-party dissatisfaction and rebellion brewing within the Republican ranks after Barack Obama won his first term. Certainly, while conservatives were hungry to defeat Barack Obama, they were just as eager to reform the Republican Party from an inept political entity into an effective messaging operation that pursued voters’ priorities.

Those of us who tried to think strategically actually admired some things about Obama’s political skills. We envied the Democrats’ ability to present a unified front to the public. Republicans were often cowardly and willing to eat their own if it furthered their individual and immediate interests.

After two consecutive defeats in presidential contests, grassroots Republicans wanted victory, and a lot of ordinary citizens were wise enough to realize that fielding yet another underwhelming, milquetoast candidate just wasn’t going to cut it. A battle developed, as the Republican establishment expected rank-and-file voters just to fall in line and let the party “kingmakers” pick the nominee. (I put “kingmakers” in air quotes because they had obviously forgotten how to kingmake.) RNC party insiders were preparing for another Bush coronation, putting all their eggs in the Jeb! basket. However, voters wanted none of him.

Those of us who supported Trump were taking a rhetorical beating from high-profile conservative commentators, particularly over at National Review Online. Kevin Williamson called us all “Trumpkins” and suggested that we were meth-addled welfare recipients living in Podunk towns that should just die out. He also referenced our supposed need for a “Father Führer.” NRO’s Jonah Goldberg was less insulting but acted as though our association with Trump was just a summer of 2015 fling we would get over by Labor Day. Okay, maybe by Thanksgiving. But definitely by Christmas! And on it went, with new Trump expiration dates being set weekly as the old ones came and went without the campaign’s self-destruction. In fact, the opposite was true. One by one, the more “suitable” GOP candidates dropped out. Trump remained standing. To Republican establishment leaders, Trump was the political equivalent of Michael Myers from the Halloween movies. They just couldn’t kill the son-of-a-bitch.

This isn’t to say that ordinary conservative voters were unanimous in thinking that Trump was the best choice. Significant, even contentious, disagreements were occurring at the grassroots level, too. Much of the division split along class and education lines. White-collar, educated Republicans mostly preferred more traditional candidates like Bush, Rubio, or Kasich. College-educated and religious (but not necessarily evangelical) conservatives preferred someone like Ben Carson. To these voters, Trump was crass, vulgar, and completely appalling. In their minds, a Trump win in the general election was incomprehensible. Toward the end of the primary season, many of them pinned their hopes on a Ted Cruz upset, but even they could not abide his behavior at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, where his non-endorsement of Trump seemed dishonest and self-serving. Ultimately, though, enough skeptical Republican voters rallied to Trump’s cause because he spoke directly to conservative Christians in a conciliatory way that persuaded them to give him the benefit of the doubt. Simultaneously, they concluded that Hillary Clinton—with her rogue server and lousy track record as a public servant (Benghazi, Russian reset, etc.)—was even more unacceptable than the combative billionaire.

Yours truly, The Academic Redneck, disagreed with my fellow college-educated conservatives. I sensed that working class conservatives’ intuition was dead right. I was convinced that winning required an in-your-face, innovative, shrewd candidate like DJT to re-take the White House from Democrats. I agreed with many ordinary voters in flyover country that Trump was the only Republican candidate who might be able to undermine the political machine in Washington. His independent wealth insulated him from having to do the sort of fundraising, groveling, and selling out that, unfortunately, so many candidates must engage in to get elected. Also impressive to me was that he fought like a successful Democrat in presidential contests. He had the same sort of talent to generate excitement among base voters as Barack Obama did in his first campaign. Yet he could be just as snarky and sarcastic as HRC or BHO. (Don’t tell Republicans that these two were dignified and didn’t resort to mockery and ridicule. We know better.)

Many Americans find Trump’s personality abrasive. I do not. Something about him strikes me as quintessentially American: over-the-top, admirable in some respects, not-so-admirable in others, but gritty and capable. He’s cosmopolitan but tacky and nouveau-riche at the same time. He lived in a penthouse with gold-plated faucets, but he’s comfortable talking to average people as well. Although he’s a New Yorker, he’s a little like the living embodiment of the Chicago Carl Sandburg described in his famous poem (more ironic since Chicago is Barack Obama’s hometown):

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,

Bareheaded,

Shoveling,

Wrecking,

Planning,

Building, breaking, rebuilding…

Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,

Laughing!

Progressives may not want to hear it, but their remaining in denial about the election—blaming Russian hacking, racism, misogyny, or whatever else for Trump’s win without looking inward–is a recipe for disaster. If anything, Bernie Sanders’s emergence should demonstrate that voter dissatisfaction is just as much of a liability for Democrats as it was for Republicans.

It’s time for Democrats to get a grip. If they want to continue with the nonstop street protests and angry activism, they will continue to lose ground. Maybe the Democratic response to Trump’s speech to Congress—delivered by former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear—is some evidence that they recognize they need to do more outreach to ordinary citizens and less fundraising in Beverly Hills.