There are a lot of angry, frustrated liberals breathing steam and fire these days. I understand their pain, but I feel like I am hearing too much about it. Every day I am inundated with emails telling me of the terrible things our new president has done. I can agree, and yet my overriding feeling is that Dan Rather or Robert Reich or Paul Krugman or any of the other individuals whose angry articles clutter my inbox might want to dial it back. Four long years lie ahead. How are they going to make it through given their dangerously high level of outrage? If outrage were blood sugar, they would be in a diabetic coma.
The denunciations only feed
the national obsession with President Donald J. Trump, a man whose opponents cannot stop talking about him. It is as if Mr. Trump’s own over-the-top style and rhetoric are virally replicating throughout our culture. Comparing the president to Vladimir Putin, Hitler or the anti-Christ distracts from what is taking shape on the ground.
Comparing the president to Vladimir Putin, Hitler or the anti-Christ distracts from what is taking shape on the ground.
We should be talking more about Republican efforts to deregulate Wall Street, gut anti-pollution measures, cut taxes on the wealthy, up military spending and amend health care in ways that will cause many people to lose health insurance—and less about president’s latest tweet or his personality flaws.
Yes, much of Mr. Trump’s behavior is dismaying, especially his fluid, protean relationship to facts, which he dismisses or accepts according to the needs of the moment. But some of the complaints about him run on a parallel track to those made about President Obama when he was in office. A Republican neighbor with a large poster of George W. Bush in her kitchen used to refer to Mr. Obama’s apocryphal birth in Kenya and complain to me that he was not fit to be president. Not fit, she would say repeatedly. Many of those decrying President Trump are reiterating that same mantra.
At the point where someone becomes president, it is irrelevant whether he—still always a he—is fit for the job. He has it. Lots of people have jobs for which they are unqualified and unfit. It is disturbing that the presidency is one of them, but nobody claimed that the people’s choice was perfect, just that democracy is a better system than any other we have devised. In pressing their claim that Mr. Trump is uniquely unqualified to be president, liberals come off as sore losers and worse. If a wide streak of paranoia seemed to run through the conservative rants of previous years—“Obama is going to take our guns away”—more than a hint of hysteria characterizes many of the current liberal tirades about the president. Either the death of democracy is at hand or the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming. Sometimes the two arguments converge to suggest that the election has been stolen. From there, it is not a far jump to say its results could be disregarded.
Politics is becoming a new form of tribalism, and hyperpartisanship is tainting almost everyone. For example, political advantage defines both parties’ responses to allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. With the exception of their party’s super-hawks, Republicans are soft-pedaling stories of Russian meddling in the election; meanwhile Democrats have become Cold Warriors, criticizing Mr. Trump from the right for being overly soft on Russia.
The most pressing threat to the integrity of our democracy comes not from outside but from big money here at home.
Ironically, the only reason Russia can be excoriated so roundly is that it has almost no influence on our politics. There is no Russia lobby here, no significant group of Russian nationals or Russo-Americans lobbying for aid or special breaks for Russia. A cynic might wonder why, if Democrats are truly concerned about foreign influence on our elections, they gladly accept political contributions from lobbyists that represent foreign clients.
The most pressing threat to the integrity of our democracy comes not from outside but from big money here at home. One of the few topics on which both Democratic and Republican voters agree is the corrupting influence of money on American politics. But curbing the power of wealthy interests and individuals is not a priority for either party’s establishment, despite a political novice winning the G.O.P. nomination and then the White House over establishment opposition.
Mr. Trump’s unexpected victory has been a wake-up call for many voters, stirring them to protests. But outrage and anger are not action, nor even a plan for action. Will these newly energized voters get actively involved in politics? Their first priority will be to hand some legislative and electoral defeats to the Republicans. But in the long term, channeling their energy into efforts to reform their party might do as much as anything to revitalize the fortunes of the Democrats and the country both.