“Winning Florida or Texas would've been like hitting Omaha Beach and cruising straight on into Berlin with the top down, listening to the Beach Boys.”
– William Gibson, tweet
It’s Veterans’ Day. And Armistice Day – one hundred years to the day that hostilities ceased in the First World War. World leaders have gathered in France to commemorate those who gave their lives in that first, awful worldwide conflict. Trump is there, too, but spent yesterday hiding from – what? The rain? That was the official excuse when he refused to travel the 55 miles to the cemetery where he was supposed to speak. Last night he was late by two hours for the formal dinner given at the Musée d’Orsay by French President Emmanuel Macron. Today, he skipped a walk with all the other world leaders down the Champs Elysées. In the few minutes he’s apparently been with other leaders, Trump’s demeanor has been surly. Except with one, for whom he was all smiles. Vladimir Putin.
Yesterday video surfaced, mocking Trump, of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year, speaking in the rain at a service for fallen WWII soldiers, who dropped his umbrella, talked about the inconvenience of getting wet and then said, “I think it’s fitting that we remember on that day, in Dieppe, the rain wasn’t rain it was bullets.” Today Macron gave a speech also rebuking Trump, in which he said, “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying, ‘Our interests first, who cares about the others,’ we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace and what is essential: its moral values.”
Trump has disgraced himself and our nation as the world watches. Though it’s something that he does daily, coming on such a momentous occasion, it was particularly striking. Nationalism gave us the First World War. Fascism and propaganda – so similar to that used now by the Republican Party – gave us the Second. Our task isn’t just to stop Trump. It is to – once again – make the world safe for democracy.
In that effort, Tuesday’s midterm election was a strong and critical start. Initial reports were equivocal about the results, doubting a “blue wave" even though it was clear by mid-evening that we had won back the House. Many of us were disappointed nonetheless to see Beto and Gillum lose and for Stacy Abrams’s effort to look in serious danger. Since Tuesday night, the picture has gotten clearer – and much brighter.
“Rs had a huge structural advantage going into 2018. The fact that Ds may net 40 seats is a rout. Period. This argument that it’s not as bad as Obama’s 63 seat loss in 2010 is laughable.”
– Amy Walter, Cook Political Report National Editor, tweet
It has become apparent as we’ve gone through the week, that the blue wave was real and enormous. Many large media outlets still haven’t gotten that right and they probably won’t. This was the biggest House win for Democrats since 1974, in the aftermath of Watergate. Votes are still being counted, but we look to pick up close to 40 House seats, have taken 7 governorships, close to 400 state legislative seats, flipped 8 state legislative chambers and ended GOP supermajorities in 3 states. While it originally looked as though we might lose three Senate seats, at this writing Arizona looks to be going to Kyrsten Sinema, which will be a Dem pickup, and Florida is heading to a recount. That will cut the loss to one or two seats. And, oh, it was the largest turnout to vote since 1914.
The other thing that the media has largely missed is what drove the wave. The answer is: we did. All of us, around the country, figuring it out, cobbling it together, doing what had to be done. This has been a remarkable achievement – an election where a massive grassroots uprising answered a call to save our country. Papers will tell you that Democratic strategists held focus groups and determined that candidates should talk about healthcare. They will tell you that Pelosi did a great job of keeping everyone on message. Both might be true. But they didn’t make the wave and they weren’t decisive.
We were. Not us individually, though it was only individual after individual answering a personal calling that brought us together. Not because of our strategic brilliance, because almost all of us were new to politics, constantly trying to find our way forward. Not because someone held us together, since we were scattered all over the country, but because we drew ourselves together to do the work we knew must be done. And not because of the Democratic Party alone, but because of thousands of groups and dozens of organizations – and candidates – that sprung up everywhere in response to the danger we so urgently felt when Trump was elected.
Waves aren’t commanded by anyone. They arise. Somehow we arose as a wave, together, each of us only a small part of the whole, a broad network of new activists in every corner of the country. And our first ‘landfall’ was forceful.
“The disgrace of the Trump presidency is still in many ways a historical accident. But Trumpism is not. It grows out of beliefs and structures that are deeply rooted in our history and rife in our present. Democrats don’t just need to win elections. They need to build an electoral movement and political infrastructure that will change the shape of the electorate over time and rewrite the rules of the political structure itself.”
– Josh Marshall, “It’s a Start and a Critical One”, Talking Points Memo, 11/7/18
As powerful as the wave was, it wasn’t decisive. A lot of us hoped that it would be, that Beto would win, and Stacey, and Andrew, that we’d take back the Senate too. That Trump would turn and run. Who wouldn’t wish for that? But the reality is that the disease producing the current manifestation of the Republican Party, including Trump, has been with us for a long time. We won a significant victory on Tuesday, a critical one, and we’ve established a beachhead from which we can begin to reclaim the country. But it won’t be quick and it won’t be easy. It was never going to be.
The issues we’re facing – racism, misogyny, authoritarianism – are deeply embedded in our culture. The Republican Party is openly embracing white nationalism and neo-fascism, articulated by a malignant narcissist, and they have a formidable propaganda machine at their disposal. The election showed us both how far this wave was able to reach and also what still needs to be done.
What still needs to be done is something that many, if not all, of us are thinking about now, already working on ways to make the next wave even bigger. It’s time to harvest our learnings, take a breath, and start planning our offense.
And Now, Chaos
We always knew that the interim between the midterms and the new Congress, even with a win, would be fraught. It didn’t take long. The day after the election, Trump forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installed Matthew Whitaker as acting Attorney General. The purpose couldn’t have been clearer: Trump wants protection from Mueller and was willing to choose someone completely unfit for the job in order to get it.
Whitaker is a political operative who was previously associated with Sam Clovis, the person had brought Carter Page and George Papadopoulous into the Trump campaign. He has made statements disparaging the Mueller investigation, worked for a GOP firm slamming Democrats and worked for a firm accused of bilking its customers. He’s on record as having disagreed with fundamental tenets of American law, beginning with Marbury v Madison. In short, he’s wildly unfit for the job and ethically should have to recuse himself from anything to do with the Mueller investigation. Of course, he won’t.
His appointment triggered nationwide protests Thursday night, the “code red” event that MoveOn, Indivisible and other groups had prepared for for some time. There is still debate about how much danger Whitaker poses to Mueller’s investigation. In any case, with the House in Democratic control beginning January 1st, they will be able to make Mueller’s findings public. But Whitaker’s appointment is terrible news for the Department of Justice and another significant step towards full dictatorship.
The other attack against democracy this week was Republican vote interference, most notably in Florida, but also in Georgia and Arizona. In Florida, as current governor Rick Scott started to see his lead dwindle, he began to raise completely unfounded allegations of “voter fraud” and began (ab)using his power as governor in an attempt to stop the tallying. Trump, Marco Rubio and the Republican National Committee all piled in and have continued to allege fraud, without any evidence whatsoever. Plainly they are trying to stop votes from being counted in order to win illegally. In the meantime, they’re undermining faith in democracy. Because that’s what dictators, as well as malignant narcissists, do. Reporting, once again, has been poor, with far too many headlines just repeating their lies and amplifying dangerous propaganda. This is what we’re still up against. We must stand firm and make sure that this vote is completely tallied and fair. And we must insist that the press not spread lies.
In Other News
The White House revoked the press credentials of correspondent Jim Acosta after he pressed Trump with a question in a press conference that Trump didn’t like. The administration* followed this up with a doctored video purporting to show Acosta grabbing a female White House intern. No such thing happened, as undoctored film clearly showed.
Trump repeatedly insulted black women reporters when questioned by them, calling their questions, “stupid”.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump clearly was aware of and directed hush payments to women in advance of the 2016 election. This is a felony.
We will face more of these attacks, and others, between now and January. This will continue to be a perilous time. Be alert and pay attention. We can’t afford to let down our guard, but must remain vigilant and ready to act quickly as needed, even through the holidays. And we need to get to work building the next wave.
But know this, too: waves aren’t singular. They come one after another. And, over time, they remake the landscape.
– Tom Benthin
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org .
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook. Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news. To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, we provide this weekly summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.