When FBI Director James Comey informed the House Intelligence Committee of the ongoing FBI investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia, Democrats reacted like hounds provided the scent of a rabbit. Off the pack went, baying at the sun, eager to run down the rabbit hole.
MoveOn called on Congress to stop all “appointments and legislation until the American people learn the full truth about Trump and Russia.” Other progressive networks scrambled to echo MoveOn. Senator Elizabeth Warren joined minority leader Chuck Schumer to argue for suspending any vote on the Gorsuch Supreme Court nomination until the investigation is completed. Another group circulated a petition suggesting that citizens disobey all laws or regulations passed since Trump took office until the investigation was completed. Senator Dianne Feinstein suggested that Trump would “get himself out of office soon.”
“There’s a smell of treason in the air,” wrote historian David Brinkley.
Reason is the first casualty in a stampede. If, as the intelligence agencies have concluded, the Russians hacked into our elections, then a full, independent investigation, with maximum public disclosure is utterly necessary. Democrats should continue to insist on it; Republicans are craven to resist it.
But going all-in on the theory that Putin did it is a bad bet. The FBI investigation will no doubt unearth all sorts of unseemly financial ties between the Trump family and Trump campaign operatives and Russian oligarchs and operatives. That’s true also of Democratic lobbyists and campaign operatives selling their services to dictators and thugs across the world. Collusion or coordination, however, will be extremely hard to prove, even if it exists. And the reality is that the DNC hacks weren’t even close to the reason Trump is in the White House.
The dangers of making the investigation the focus of Democratic opposition to Trump are apparent. Democrats are railing about the Russians and the last election, while Trump is talking jobs, law and order, protecting our borders, and health care. We know which of these speak to the challenges Americans face.
Worse, the Democratic attack targets Trump individually, removing the right-wing Republican Congress from the picture. This simply distracts from the real deal.
Trump is a huckster running a massive con job.He pretends to care about working people, while turning his economic policy over to Goldman Sachs alums. He says he’ll focus on rebuilding America, while doubling down on endless wars in the Middle East. His health-care plan would deprive millions of health insurance in order to cut the taxes on the very rich that pay for current subsidies. His budget lards more money into the Pentagon, while eviscerating support for the vulnerable, the young, impacted urban and rural areas. His tax plan, presumably a variant of what he presented in the campaign, will be festooned with more tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations. His populist posturing and tweet-driven chaos only cover the reality that he’s pushing the failed policies of the right.
Democrats have both a political and moral imperative to expose this reality relentlessly. Eventually, Americans will catch onto the scam, but only if Democrats and activists rip the cover off repeatedly.
For example, activists should be pushing Democrats to block the Gorsuch appointment not because of what Putin did but because Gorsuch is a right-wing judicial activist, handpicked by the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, who has and will protect corporate interests over the rights of women, minorities, and citizens generally. He’s been taught how to present himself to Congress, but so were Roberts and Alito before him.
Gorsuch will continue the judicial assault on voting rights, on women’s right to reproductive-health services, on equal rights for the LGBTQ community. He will revive the conservative majority on the Court to push its effort to establish corporations as superhuman in the law, so that corrupting our elections becomes protected speech, depriving employees of basic rights becomes protected religious freedom, regulation becomes suspect intrusion. Democrats should be informing Americans why his nomination should be rejected, no matter what Putin and Trump did or didn’t do.
This is a question of focus. Democrats can and should pursue an independent, forceful investigation of Russian interference in our elections. But they, and the resistance that drives them, should concentrate their energy and resources not on the past election or Trump’s constant circus but on the corrupted policies that he seeks to inflict on America.
We’ve seen a variant of this before when Newt Gingrich’s Republican Congress pursued the impeachment of Bill Clinton. There the offense and legal violation—lying under oath—were known. Republicans pounded on that; Clinton focused on jobs and protecting Social Security and Medicare. An organization named MoveOn was formed, enlisting millions to demand that the Congress move on to address the issues of concern to the American people. Gingrich ignored the call. Republicans got slaughtered in the midterms and Gingrich resigned as Speaker. Trump mortifies with his antics and corruptions, but he is savaging Americans with his policies. Democrats must expose and resist those policies while showing Americans that there is an alternative.