There is one, and I’ll argue only one, thing that Thomas Friedman gets right in his latest New York Times column “‘Trump’s Going to Get Re-Elected, Isn’t He?’”—and that one thing is the fact that people are asking that question a lot. The fear is palpable. The fear is real that somehow the Democratic Party will fail to the meet the unique danger posed by the incumbent president.
Fear can be a powerful motivator, but fear also causes people to make bad arguments and promote silly things. Thomas Friedman is afraid, and it shows. His prescription for the Democrats to confront the danger of Donald Trump is well-meaning inanity, the kind you find in a squirrel who hears a hawk and runs around in a circle because it can’t remember where the tree is.
The particular hawk that seems to have set Friedman off this time was the first round of Democratic debates. Friedman watched them and did not like what he saw. He was “shocked.” No, really, he used the word “shocked” five times to describe the ideas he heard from Democrats, which is an interesting word choice considering Donald Trump is the president of the United States. Maybe he expected Democrats to offer the same kind of fiscally conservative, socially moderate, wildly unpopular policies that served Jeb! so very well against Trump?
Dear Democrats: This is not complicated! Just nominate a decent, sane person, one committed to reunifying the country and creating more good jobs, a person who can gain the support of the independents, moderate Republicans and suburban women who abandoned Donald Trump in the midterms and thus swung the House of Representatives to the Democrats and could do the same for the presidency. And that candidate can win!
But please, spare me the revolution! It can wait.
This poor man has it so twisted around that he’s decided it’s the Democrats who are threatening to nominate somebody indecent and insane.
Friedman runs around howling like this for a while—calling Democratic contenders who support policies like busing and Medicare for All “extreme”—before he finally finds his tree. He finds aid and comfort in the same kind of neoliberal, technocratic, “growing the pie” clichés he has been selling since the Clinton years. He determines that’s what the Democrats need and, instead of promoting any of approximately 5,427 Democrats actually running for president, Friedman drafts Gina Raimondo, the governor of Rhode Island, off the bench. He praises Raimondo’s abilities to fend off primary opponents farther to her left, which I’m sure was a super-hard task in a state with less than half the population of Queens that is also 81 percent white.
From independents like Friedman to actual Republicans like Bret Stephens and David Brooks, it has become fashionable to criticize liberals for being liberal. How dare progressives advocate for the progressive policies that stand in opposition to Trump’s policies, when the most important thing is beating Trump? Their argument is that white voters (they’ve all but stopped trying to hide their feelings that white voters are the only voters worth caring about) will end up voting for Donald Trump if they have to choose between Trump or progressive policies they don’t like.
Let’s pause for a moment to break down what that really means. To hear the Friedmanites tell it, moderate and independent whites are caught between two extremes: The Democrats will nominate a person, maybe even a woman person, who will advocate for increased access to health care and bodily autonomy for women; the Republicans will nominate a person who has been accused by 16 women of sexual misconduct and is on record saying that he believes there should be some kind of criminal punishment for women who get an abortion. How can a moderately disposed suburban woman possibly be asked to choose between these two extreme points of view?
On immigration, the Democratic Party is really putting the screws to the moderates. The Democrats will nominate a person, maybe even a brown person, who will favor providing health care, compassion, and humane treatment to people who show up in America from other places, regardless of whether they asked nicely and legally before fleeing whatever hellscape motivated them to trek, on foot, away from their homes. The Republicans will nominate a person who favors rounding people up based on their perceived country of origin (even if that country is The Bronx), locking them in cages, and making them drink toilet water as a warning to other nonwhites who dare to step foot in America. If only the Democrats would nominate a “decent” person, independents wouldn’t be faced with such an impossible choice!
Look, the moral eye of history is fixated squarely on the moderates and unaffiliated independents this election cycle. Donald Trump is a bigot and a misogynist, who commits crimes against humanity. That is no longer even up for debate. Either independents will support the bigoted atrocities committed by the Trump administration, or they won’t. This is the moral test of this election. Progressives cannot bribe moderates into having a conscience. All progressives can do is make the choice faced by the country clear and unambiguous.
We are for compassion; Trump is for cruelty. We are for democracy; Trump is for tyranny. This is not a hard choice.
If you are one of those voters who really is struggling with the choice between the Democratic nominee (whoever that turns out to be) and the Republican one, let me propose my own Friedman-style technological solution: Take out your phone, put it in selfie-mode, and record a video of yourself saying, “Turns out, I am a selfish ogre and I’m comfortable sending the country to hell.”
There, I’ve solved your unaffiliated independent conundrum. If you are comfortable making that video, then you are golden. You no longer have to worry if the specific mechanism to pay for universal health care is so “extreme” that you are just going to have to vote for a racist authoritarian who is likely running the most corrupt administration in American history. That video tells you who you are and what you’re going to do. You can go back to clubbing baby seals, or whatever it is that you do, and patting yourself on the back for that one time you totally almost voted for the black guy.
Unlike Friedman, I’m not afraid of losing this kind of “moderate” voter, because I know that the things I’d have to do to get their vote would involve “self-deporting” back to “Africa” where those voters think I’m from. Friedman is willing to sell out every progressive constituency to chase independents, because people like him never have to pay the price of the compromise he offers. I do. Women do. Little kids who were brought to this country by their parents and now need to see a doctor have to pay when we abandon our commitment to provide health care for everybody, regardless of status.
I’m not afraid because I think most independents and moderates are not like most of today’s Republicans. I think that, unlike those Republicans, most independents and moderates will make the correct moral decision, as long as Democrats explain that they’re being asked to make a moral decision and not a political one.
Either way, if you are an independent, my suggested video should solve your problem. I have unburdened you. You can vote for a racist, or not. You can vote for a sexual predator, or not. No more time need be wasted, by you or on you, trying to figure out if you will or won’t vote for the racist president. No more column inches need be devoted to your mewling about which progressive policies are making it hard for you to reject white supremacy.
If people like Thomas Friedman want to be part of the Democratic solution, that is fine. He is welcome. But if wants to hold his vote hostage until progressives pay a large enough ransom in Friedman Units, he can quiet on down. This election cycle, the Democratic Party will not be negotiating with hostage-takers.
Independents are welcome to join this fight against evil, but they will not lead it. If you ask me, letting the centrist tail lead the progressive dog is how we got into this ass-backwards mess in the first place.