George Boardman: What’s a progressive to do about Trump? Try getting back to the basics
February 12, 2017
Observations from the center stripe: Sighting edition
REP. DOUG LaMalfa is scheduled to be in our neck of the woods Feb. 24, but it’s to address some water district association bigwigs at the Ridge Golf Course in Auburn…IF THE CHP wants to improve safety on Highway 49, it should try writing some speeding tickets once in a while …THERE’S A kidney specialist on Wolf Road whose license plate reads “Bean Dr.”…UNCLEAR ON the concept: The Big Mac now comes in three sizes…WHOEVER stole Tom Brady’s Super Bowl jersey might as well return it. That thing’s too hot to sell for a long time…
Donald Trump has certainly energized a lot of people. Just ask Congressmen Tom McClintock and Doug LaMalfa.
McClintock held a town hall meeting in Roseville recently that drew a crowd of hostile constituents demanding answers on the fate of Obamacare, climate change, and other hot button issues. They didn't like the answers, but give McClintock credit for standing up and facing his constituents.
It's hard to tell where LaMalfa is standing these days. Constituents claim he won't meet with them to discuss the health care issue, nobody was at his Auburn office when an estimated 75 people tried to visit recently, and his website lists no upcoming town hall meetings where he can interact with the people he represents.
These are just two local examples of how Trump has energized progressives around the country since he took the oath of office Jan. 20. The rage and energy could have been put to better use in September and October, but when you're the party out of power, you have to be thankful for support whenever you get it.
Perhaps out of a sense of guilt, progressives are now channeling much of their rage toward the leaders of the Democratic Party, demanding that they resist any attempt by Trump and Congress to deliver on their agenda. (It's interesting to note how many people carried signs that said "Resist" at McClintock's get together. You don't suppose the protest was organized, do you?)
The resistance mounted to-date has caused the Republicans to dial back the repeal of Obamacare for at least a year while they come up with a plausible replacement plan, and Trump was put on the defensive for his poorly thought-out and executed ban of Muslim immigrants, but trying to stop everything Trump wants to do is at best a delaying action.
Republicans control the levers of power in the Executive Branch and Congress, and they can do pretty much what they want as long as they maintain party discipline in the U.S. Senate. If they can get somebody as unqualified as Betsy DeVos confirmed as secretary of education, they can get the rest of Trump's cabinet nominees approved barring any personal scandals we don't know about yet. Neil Gorsuch will be the next Supreme Court justice, even if it takes the "nuclear option" to get him confirmed.
So what's a progressive to do? How should this rage be channeled? That was the topic of a meeting in Nevada City last week, where just about every progressive outfit this side of Donner Summit was represented. Even the Tea Party showed up. The consensus view was probably best summarized by Beth Moore of the local Green Party: "Choose a group. Choose several. Just get involved."
People should get involved in the causes they feel passionate about, but that won't achieve their goal of enacting a progressive agenda unless they put more effort into the basic blocking and tackling of politics: Electing candidates who reflect your values.
All of this angst could have been avoided if progressives had moderated their rigid idealism and taken the November election more seriously. Despite the interest generated by Trump's unconventional campaign, just 62 percent of eligible adults voted in the presidential election—typical of recent elections.
As everybody knows by now, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost out on the electoral vote. How was that possible? Well, 11.7 million people voted for third party candidates and another 2.4 million people left the presidential line blank on their ballots. I'm sure those people felt virtuous when they left their polling place. I wonder how they feel now.
The reality is there never has been — and there never will be — a perfect candidate. The best you can hope for is somebody reasonably honest who generally reflects your view of how government should interact with its citizens. (When confronted with the same dilemma on the Republican side of the political divide, William F. Buckley, Jr. said: "Nominate the most conservative candidate who is electable.")
That brings us to the 2018 mid-term election, where the Democrats have little hope of retaking the House of Representatives and will be hard-pressed to hold onto the 48 seats they have in the Senate.
The first mid-term election in a new administration generally favors the party out of power, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 59 Republican congressional seats in 24 states, 23 in districts where Clinton beat Trump. Three of those congressmen are in California: Jeff Denham of Turlock, Ed Royce of Orange County, and Darrell Issa of Vista, who won re-election by 1,621 votes in a district Trump lost by over 23,000.
Ironically, the Democrats' best chance for congressional gains may depend on Trump's success in enacting his agenda coupled with his increasingly bizarre public behavior. The Republican wave in 2010—they managed to flip more than five dozen seats to gain control of the House—was fueled by voter backlash against Obama's policies, including the bank bail-out and Obamacare.
In some ways, the task in the Senate is more daunting because the Democrats hold 23 of the 33 seats up for re-election in 2018, including 10 in states carried by Trump. Just as House Republicans up for re-election the first time will have to defend their support of Trump, Democratic senators in the 10 Trump states will have to distance themselves from the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Much as Republicans did in 2010, Democrats have a chance to channel the anger of liberals and progressives in 2018. "The anger is on the Democrat side," said David Gilliard, a political strategist for six Republican members of congress. "That anger turns into activism, and that does drive voter turnout. No question."
Of course, all of this could have been avoided. Willie Brown, former long-time speaker of the state Assembly, former mayor of San Francisco and one of the shrewdest political minds around, made note of the signs displayed during the Women's March in San Francisco last month. He was tempted to add his own sign: "Maybe all of you should have voted."
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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