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The Democrats’ Craven Response to Donald Trump

Democratic lawmakers want to make nice with the new president. This is both short-sighted and cowardly.

Yuri Gripas/Getty Images

Not ten days out from the election of a man that they called “unfit” for office—who is expected to assume the presidency despite currently losing the popular vote by 1.4 million votes (a number expected to grow)—and congressional Democrats are doing what they do best: acquiescing. They are trying to find “common ground” with the person who said he would prosecute his opponent if he were to win the election. A man currently involved in 75 pending lawsuits, one of which involves allegations of child rape. The candidate who openly asked Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Who made fun of a reporter with disabilities. Who never released his tax returns. I could go on.

According to The New York Times, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and several other Democratic leaders want to take a different tack from the congressional Republicans who executed a strategy of near total obstruction during President Barack Obama’s administration—to great effect. Instead, Democrats are seeking areas in which Democrats and the president-elect will be able to work together: infrastructure spending, mandated paid maternity leave, ending tax breaks on hedge funds, etc. No less a progressive than Bernie Sanders said that if Trump “keeps his promises” that he will be “ready to work with him.” (One hopes there are several promises of Trump’s that Bernie doesn’t want him to keep.)

On the surface this seems reasonable: Why not work with Trump to move forward a few Democratic priorities? Furthermore, offering Trump incentives to work across the aisle could create a wedge between him and congressional Republicans, who may be forced into making uncomfortable choices on these issues. Trump has also shown a pathological need for praise and attention: His love affair with Vladimir Putin seems to stem from some early (and likely mistranslated) praise from the Russian authoritarian. Telling Trump he has good ideas and that they want to work with him will probably earn Democrats a few brownie points.

Were this a normal election, with a middle-of-the-road conservative Republican about to assume the presidency, this might be a defensible strategy. But with this Republican, and at this precise moment, this approach seems like dangerous folly. The bulk of Hillary Clinton’s campaign involved trying to convince the American people that Trump was a danger to America, an unstable, unprepared, intellectually uncurious narcissist who also happens to hate immigrants and women. Might it be possible, then, that some of the 63 million of us who voted for her actually believe these things, and are not quite ready for this quick about-face towards compromise? Are these Washington insiders paying any attention to the national mood lately? Do they not see how many protests are happening every day, and how many more are being planned? Are they so out of touch?

To so many Democrats like myself, any mention of finding common ground with Trump is a step towards accomplishing the exact thing we fear most: normalization. And this is precisely what cannot happen after a campaign as ugly as Trump’s. We reject the idea that what we just experienced was somehow acceptable, just “politics”—that the things he said, that the way he conducted himself in his campaign, and that the people he has surrounded himself with, can be forgiven and forgotten. Many of us are not ready, and may never be. Clinton’s lead in the popular vote looks to be four times Al Gore’s in the 2000 election—excuse us for still questioning the legitimacy of Trump’s election, even if we eventually must accept it. Excuse us for not being so ready to dive into what many of us fear will be the worst presidency of our lifetimes.

It’s also unclear what long-term benefit congressional Democrats expect from forging deals with Trump. Need they be reminded, for instance, that Obama practically begged Republicans for increased infrastructure spending every year and they consistently refused him? And who ended up getting the blame for a lackluster recovery from the Great Recession? Obama, not Republicans. Similarly, if Democrats secure an infrastructure spending package with President Trump, it is the Republicans who stand to benefit from any economic gains—who will be in a position to go into 2020 with something to brag about. Democrats will not get any credit for these kinds of compromises.

Furthermore, the Democratic attempts to differentiate between aspects of Trump’s platform—offering Trump consensus on some economic issues, while drawing a line in the sand on cultural ones like racism, bigotry, etc.—is astonishingly naïve. White working class voters weren’t ignorant of Trump’s manifest vulgarity, or his odious stances on immigrants. They heard the Access Hollywood tape. They knew it all—likely they just didn’t care. If Trump delivers to them on their pocketbook issues, they will stick with him. They will not flock to the Democrats.

It appears that only Harry Reid is getting the Democratic response right. Until Trump offers his apologies on the patently toxic campaign he ran, until he shows that he is capable of admitting just how much trauma and hate he has inflicted upon our country, Democrats should offer no olive branches.

By prematurely offering to work with Trump before he has shown even the slightest bit of contrition—before he has even filled out his sure-to-be controversial cabinet—congressional Democrats are hollowing out the argument they made for months. He is unfit for office, and that is precisely the argument that needs to be made—now more than ever. Gallup’s first favorability ratings for our new president-elect are far and away the worst in the firm’s history. It is up to Trump to prove to us that he is able to lead. We shouldn’t make it easy for him.