State of Disunion

We’re in a Fight For the Soul of Our Nation


Yes we lost the Kavanaugh battle, but we didn't lose the war.



On Saturday, the Senate confirmed to the Supreme Court a man appointed by a president who is despised by most of the country and who lost the popular vote by millions. Note also that the Republican senators who confirmed Brett Kavanaugh represent a minority of Americans, and the man they confirmed holds policy and social views that are opposed by the majority. The GOP went through extraordinary lengths to hide his full record from view and limit inquiry and debate into the part of his record they did permit to be disclosed. They confirmed him after collectively framing the allegations of sexual assault from several women as a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats, falsely suggesting that the allegations against Kavanaugh violated his due process rights as if he were on trial facing a loss of liberty, rather than auditioning for one of the most important jobs in the country—a lifetime appointment for which he will never face any accountability.

So what does this mean for the majority of the population on whom the Republican minority, which nonetheless controls all three branches of federal government, seeks to impose its unpopular will? Where do we go from here?

We have only one real choice: We go into full war mode.

What emerged from this battle, if it was not clear before, is that we are in a long and ongoing war for the soul of this country. Will we be able to get back on a path of progress toward equality? Can we restore decency and respect for one another and for our world? Right now, it feels like we’re losing, because not only does a terrifyingly large portion of our society want to take us backwards, it wants to twist the knife and revel in our defeat for its own sake. On the right, Kavanaugh’s confirmation became not merely about achieving a longstanding “conservative” goal (potential abrogation of women’s rights to control their bodies and LGBTQ people’s rights to be equal under the law)—which could have been achieved with any Republican nominee—but about stomping us down and out. The Republican victory is not about policy or principle. It’s about white male dominance. It is a zero-sum game, success defined as annihilating the “other.”

But the “other” is most of us. The “other” is women—women of all races and ethnicities plus at least 47 percent of white women. The “other” is black people, brown people, Asian people. The “other” is Muslims and Jews and Sikhs and atheists and Buddhists. The “other” is the LGBTQ community. The “other” is immigrants and their families. The “other” is now the entire Democratic Party, which Trump on Monday ominously decried as a “left-wing mob.”

The GOP knows that in marrying itself to Trump, it has alienated 100 million women; it has staked its future on being an all-white party that effectively endorses violence against women and silences and denies women’s pain, just as it has alienated the overwhelming majority of people of color through its verbal and policy assaults on their rights and lives, just as it has alienated LGBTQ people with its attacks on them, literally erasing them from White House websites and eliminating protections that the Obama administration had adopted. Because the coalition of people the GOP has made into enemies are, together, the majority of this nation. The GOP is now unequivocally the party of white nationalism, of rape, of cruelty; the party that stacks the deck for corporations against individuals and rips children from their parents and puts them in cages; the party that says it is okay to poison the water and the air; the party that thinks there is nothing to be done about children being slaughtered in their schools; the party that wants to make health care unaffordable; the party that deports law-abiding and taxpaying parents who have lived in the U.S. for decades; the party that tells people that they cannot marry the person they love. These collective positions are antithetical to a diverse or functioning society, and they are deeply unpopular. And they cannot be sustained over time except through increasingly illegitimate, anti-democratic means.

We need to recognize that this upsurge in unapologetic white male grievance is a last gasp as their power erodes. Trumpism is the howling fear and rage that emerges from the realization that the unearned privilege of white men, which has come at everyone else’s expense, is very slowly melting away. And the white women who have relied secondarily on that same privilege share in the howling rage as their own status is threatened.

So while we lost a critical battle this week, this sham of a process has exposed the GOP for exactly who they are and have been for decades. The GOP’s disrespect for sexual-assault victims and for women—propped up by other women as well as men—was, in effect, on trial; and it was both enraging and soul-sickening to witness. The GOP closed its ranks against women and deployed other women as human shields to protect their misogynist leadership from the optics of their misogyny, but few were fooled. Tens of millions of us have seen it and we are not going to let these people annihilate us.

We will look back at this lost battle as the turning point in our slow march to victory, perhaps even a greater turning point than the organizing that followed Hillary Clinton’s defeat. On Friday, like so many of us, I felt gutted, furious, and impotent. But since then, I’ve begun to feel both grittily determined and almost weirdly optimistic. The GOP’s mask is completely gone and the monster is hideous. It is easier to fight a demon if you can see it for what it is.

As I see it, there are three main fronts in this long-term war.

First, there is the one we have the most control over: getting all who opposed the Republican agenda to the polls. Power doesn’t relinquish itself. We have the greater numbers and we also have the causes of equality and justice on our side. We will begin with November 6, 2018, when I hope a blue tidal wave will sweep some of the worst of these miserable monsters away. That tidal wave, however, requires work—real activism by all of us who are able, to register voters, help get people to the polls, watch the polls, fund challenges to GOP dirty tricks and other forms of cheating (voter suppression, push polls, closing polling places, purging voters from the rolls, failure to count votes, failure to guard against hacking, etc.). It requires money and time and commitment; it requires people who say they care to put their words into activism. Our victory is not inevitable and the forces of revanchism are themselves invigorated by their recent victory. We have got to fight for this country and win in November. And then we can build on that for 2020 and beyond.

Second: convincing those who have for all intents and purposes opted out of our system to opt in—these are minority voters whose needs legislatures have ignored for decades; the poor who do not have time or energy to vote and who feel disconnected from their government; the young and others who see the entire system as corrupt; the cynical and apathetic who still think nothing makes a difference despite the evidence of the last two years. There is a catch-22 here because the people for whom the system is broken, who see no meaning in political actions and no difference in their lives no matter who is in power, are the least likely to be convinced that voting will make a difference, and often they are also people for whom voting is the most burdensome. The key to fixing this is to enact legislation at the state and federal level that addresses these people’s needs. And then the grass roots and Democratic Party actors who secure the legislation need community organizers to message their successes to those whom they have just assisted.

Third: winning back some hearts and minds that are currently lost to Trumpism. The thing with Trump and the GOP is that they have “governed” like a hostile, occupying force. All of us who disagree are treated like the enemy. The tax scam was a punitive assault on the poor and on blue states, for example. The Supreme Court confirmation process was the opportunity to force extremist views down the unwilling throats of the majority in a sham process, while lying about both that extremism and the unfairness of the process. The entire right-wing disinformation apparatus is a Putin-esque propaganda machine that feeds on demonizing huge swaths of America (for profit). That demonization has itself become the GOP justification for other-izing policies that are actively designed to cause injury. And the demonization is part of the end-goal in and of itself for the right.

This problem is a far greater challenge than the first two, but it is a critical issue if we want to win this war over the long haul.  It is one thing for power to shift back and forth between legitimate political parties with competing visions of the appropriate role and size of government—which perhaps used to define the two parties.  It is quite another to have, as we do now, a Republican Party that has devolved into simply a rump factionalist white nationalist party whose goals and methods are antithetical to the basic principles of equality and democracy.  While the GOP used to have an approach to solving national problems that was different than the Democrats’, they at least agreed that the problems existed and had ideas for solving them.  But now the Republican Party stands for nothing except privileging white, Christian, wealthy men and corporations to the active detriment of everyone else and to the planet. And because that agenda is unpopular, the GOP has become increasingly unwilling to adhere to democratic process, resorting to cheating and lies and corruption and even to accepting the aid of a hostile foreign power to sustain its grip on power. It has resorted to an Orwellian-level propaganda, accusing the left of everything the Republicans themselves actually do, in a collective gaslighting effort that is dishonest and dangerous and undertaken in knowing bad faith.

But rather than write 40 percent of the citizenry off as “lost” and live in a country of permanent social cleavage with the Republican minority fantasizing of civil war and threatening either tyranny or insurrection, depending on who is in power, we need to go back and figure out what, if any, our shared values are, because right now, there is more that divides us than unites us as a country.  This is an enormous, difficult, and long-term project.

For now, we have to think about what happens when and if the Democrats return to power. In addition to pushing for and passing meaningful legislation on health care, criminal-justice reform, infrastructure, and the environment, they must be relentless in exposing fully and rooting out corruption and in responding to Republican depredations forcefully—including by holding open hearings on the role of dark money, on Republican campaign violations, on Trump’s corruption, on GOP voter suppression, on Republican raiding of the public coffers and transfers of public wealth and resources to their top donors. We need to expose the GOP for the sham that it is:  a vehicle for corporations and the wealthy to keep almost all Americans, including rank-and-file GOP voters, down. And the grassroots, rank-and-file voters and activists on the left need to push for this because career politicians have to be forced to fight hard and not to fall prey to this tired trap of the right violating every norm and then the Democrats doing nothing and reverting to the “high road” the minute the GOP is out of power. The GOP never plays fair. Norms cannot go only one way.

And so the Democrats must also not reintroduce the filibuster for court nominations; once in the majority they must pass legislation to add seats to the Supreme Court and other federal courts to counteract the tyranny of the Republican minority. We are dealing with a cheating force and we must respond substantively. We don’t need to go low in the sense of adopting their hateful rhetoric, or preventing their voters from voting; but we must respond to voter suppression with massive voter reform and reinvigoration of the Voting Rights Act. Likewise, when an illegitimate president and his party steal a Supreme Court seat and push through an extremist over the will of the people, we must counteract it with all means possible and one of those means is to expand the court.  We don’t let the GOP and Kavanaugh get away with their lies—get the full set of Kavanaugh documents from the National Archives, investigate, and if warranted, we refer Kavanaugh for indictment for perjury and push for new Senate rules that would prevent these kind of process-oriented shenanigans from ever being repeated. And until extreme gerrymandering is outlawed we beat them at their own game. I say this because only when the Democrats counter Republican gamesmanship with equal force will Republicans take issue with that conduct—and then the rejection of extreme gerrymandering will become bipartisan.

Right now many of us lack the time or energy or even the luxury of embarking on the long-term project of trying to convince people who think the Confederate flag is awesome that it’s not. I commend those who can take that on and support them (Beto O’Rourke is an example). But for today and the near future, I’m devoting myself to the Blue Wave. Together we are going to show the GOP that in their zeal to win the Kavanaugh confirmation battle, they’ve lost the war for the soul of America.

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