Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman is right: Republicans use every ounce of power given them to destroy Democrats and their voting coalition. Democrats meanwhile twiddle the goddamn thumbs and apologize to Republican voters.
Democrats look like they’re the ones with the greater share of political power in America today, holding both the White House and Congress. So why do they so often seem weak and ineffectual, while Republicans ruthlessly employ every shred of power they have?
You could hardly have asked for a more vivid illustration than what’s happening right now. In Congress, a couple of key Democrats, especially Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), proclaimed their intention to sabotage the party’s agenda if it isn’t drastically pared back, lest anyone think it’s too “partisan.” They could unshackle themselves from the filibuster and actually do what they were elected to do, but they choose not to.
Meanwhile, Republican-run states are rushing to create a far-right dystopia where every customer at your local supermarket is packing heat, school boards and election boards are run by QAnon lunatics, mob rule is valorized and institutionalized, voting rights are dramatically restricted, and abortion is outlawed.
And they’re doing it with the help of a conservative Supreme Court majority that barely bothers to pretend that it cares about precedent, the Constitution, the law or anything other than remaking America to conform to its ideological agenda.
We’re seeing what a profound difference there is in how Democrats and Republicans view power. When Democrats have it, they’re often apologetic, uncertain and hesitant to use it any way that anyone might object to. Republicans, on the other hand, will squeeze it and stretch it as far as they can. They aren’t reluctant, and they aren’t afraid of a backlash. Whatever they can do, they will do.
Think of how the two parties react when presented with an obstacle to getting what they want. Democrats often issue statements of regret: We’d like to move forward, but what can we do? This is how democracy works.
Republicans, on the other hand, react to obstacles by getting creative. They search for loopholes, they engineer procedural workarounds, they devise innovative ways to seize and wield control. When they come up with an idea and someone says, “That’s madness — no one has ever dared try something like that before,” they know they’re on the right track.
There’s a line of jurisprudence establishing the right to abortion? What if we outlaw the procedure, but pull a switcheroo by putting enforcement in the hands of millions of potential vigilantes so you can’t sue the government to overturn the law? Does that sound cynical and crazy? Don’t worry, we’ve got five votes on the Supreme Court who’ll give it the rubber stamp.
That’s the kind of creative use of power Democrats don’t even contemplate. Think back to the decision that led directly to this latest stage in the assault on abortion, when then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to allow President Barack Obama’s nominee to be considered for a Supreme Court vacancy, holding it open for nearly a year so it could be filled by a Republican president.
McConnell didn’t worry about how many stern editorials condemned his action. He didn’t care about whether polls showed that if you asked them the right way, the public would disagree with what he was doing, because he knew that they were barely paying attention.
Critically, nearly all of his Republican Senate colleagues got on board with the strategy. They didn’t care that what they were doing wouldn’t be seen as sufficiently “bipartisan.” They wanted that seat, and they were going to get it. Now they have it — and two more, thanks to the fact that Donald Trump was elected in 2016 winning a minority of the vote — and they’re damn sure going to use it.
You can trace the roots of these differing conceptions of power very far back, but the most critical moment was the 2000 election controversy in Florida, not only for the tactical chasm that separated the parties throughout that battle, but for the way it ended. Five conservatives on the Supreme Court simply handed George W. Bush the presidency, not because it was what the Constitution demanded or even because there was a remotely persuasive legal argument for it, but because the outcome itself was what they wanted.
They could do it, so they did. Republicans learned a vital lesson: If you have the power to get what you want, use it. Don’t worry that you’ll pay some karmic price down the road, because you probably won’t.
Republicans tell Democratic voters how they will be harmed, persecuted, even killed if they don't join the "winning" side, warnings of retribution and destruction are daily occurrences for the GOP. Democrats meanwhile apologize for governing the country as a whole and constantly ask how they can make things easier for the voters who increasingly want to see them swinging from the gallows or shot dead, tied to a firing squad post.
One side will do anything it takes to win, up to and including disinformation to kill its own supporters just to drum up constant, inchoate rage.
Our side vows to bring cookies.
It's been like this for the entire run of Zandar Versus the Stupid, and indeed for my entire adult lifetime, going back to Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America when I was a college freshman.
When we tried to use power in 2010, for the Affordable Care Act, it cost us 80 House seats and a dozen Senate seats over two midterm elections, not to mention half the state legislatures. The backlash of white supremacy against a party that gave us a Black president continues to this day and will do so for the rest of my life, and right now, that backlash is winning.
If Trump was even slightly more competent, the GOP would still have total control of America. We got extraordinarily lucky, and we're acting like it's business as usual with filibuster footsie and squealing about national debt, while Republicans are openly talking about putting Democrats in cages and graves.
It's war. Open war. And if the Democrats don't win, we're all doomed.
It's long past time we started fighting like it.