SYNDICATED COLUMN: Trump Has Revolutionized Politics. Can Democrats Catch Up?

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Donald Trump may last; he may go away. But the influence of his revolutionary approach to American politics will endure. What he learned and taught about campaigning will be studied and emulated for years to come.

Social media matters. In 2016 his free Twitter feed defeated Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion fundraising juggernaut.

Foot soldiers don’t matter. Clinton was everywhere—every state, most counties. In many states Trump didn’t have a single office.

It’s not location, not location, not location. Clinton dropped buckets of cash on events in big expensive cities. Remember her Roosevelt Island launch announcement, the fancy stage using Manhattan as a backdrop? Trump rode the escalator down to his lobby. He held rallies in cheap, hardscrabble cities like Dayton and Allentown. He understood that his audience wasn’t in the room. It was on TV. It doesn’t matter where the event is held.

Stump speeches are dead. Stump speeches originated in the 19th century. In an era of mass communications you’re an idiot if—like Clinton—you read the same exact text in Philly as you read in Chicago. CNN covered Trump’s rallies more than Hillary’s because not because Jeff Zucker wanted Trump to win. TV networks are in the ratings business; Trump’s free-form extemporizing was entertaining because you never knew what he was going to say.

Now Trump is revolutionizing governance.

The biggest revelation from Trump’s first term—at this writing, I assume he’ll be re-elected—is that bipartisanship is dead. Even with the slimmest majority, a political party can get big things done. You don’t need the other party. Not even a single crossover.

The president can be unpopular. Ditto your party. All you need to govern successfully is party discipline. Keep your cabal together and anything is possible.

Trump’s approval ratings hover around 38%. That’s Nixon During Watergate level. Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate. Conventional wisdom, based as it is on historical precedent, dictates that controversial legislation can only pass such a narrowly-divided legislative body if the majority entices some members of the minority to go along.     There’s a corollary to that assumption: the implicit belief that laws are politically legitimate only if they enjoy the support of a fairly broad spectrum of voters.

Not any more.

In this Trump era major legislative changes get rammed through Congress along strict party-line votes—and Democrats suck it up with nary a squawk. Trump’s Republicans passed a huge tax cut for corporations and rich individuals. Protesters? What protesters? The GOP gutted Obamacare and suffered no consequences whatsoever…not even a stray attack ad.

The same goes for judicial nominations. Time was, a President would withdraw a nominee to the Supreme Court if the minority party wasn’t likely to support him or her, as Reagan did with the controversially far-right Robert Bork. Trump rams his picks through the Senate like Mussolini, Democrats be damned.

Rightist extremist Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a slim 54-45. Considering that Democrats were still seething over Republicans’ refusal to consider Obama high court nominee Merrick Garland (a centrist) for 10 months, that was a remarkable success. We don’t know what will become of the battle over Brett Kavanaugh, hobbled by multiple accusations of sexual assault and his anguished, furious performance trying to defend himself on national television; if confirmed it will be by the slimmest of party-line votes.

One can, and perhaps should, deplore the new normal. In the long run, it can’t bode well for the future of a country for its citizens to be governed by laws most of them are against, passed by politicians most of them despise, and whose constitutionality is assessed by court justices most of them look down upon. But this is reality. Sitting around tweeting your annoyance won’t change a thing.

Darwinism isn’t survival of the fittest; it’s survival of the most adaptable. Crocodilians have stuck around hundreds of million of years in part because they’ve learned to eat just about anything. The same goes for politics: if Democrats want to win power and score big victories after they do they’ll learn the lessons of Trumpism or die.

Party discipline is everything. Traitors, Democrats In Name Only, cannot be tolerated.

There is no room in a modern political party for “moderates” or “centrists.” Only a strong, strident, unapologetically articulated left vision can counter the energized GOP base and its far-right agenda.

Politics as bloodsport? It was always so. Republicans knew it. Thanks to Trump, Democrats can no longer deny their clear options: get real or get left behind.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


33 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Trump Has Revolutionized Politics. Can Democrats Catch Up?

  1. As far as countering Trump’s revolutionary approach to politics:

    John Reilly for President! Go Humans!

    Awesome interview here: (It’s 5 minutes long, and good to the end, please watch)

    I hope the link works, although it looks a little funky. You could always do your own search for it, this is the articles title:

    “Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly’s new western has bloody violence and suffering. But it also has sweetness.”

      • Actually, some people have been qualified. Maybe not likeable, but qualified. It’s not so much the celebrity “I’m not qualified” that terrifies me. I’m more alarmed by the “Because I’m a celebrity, I am, somehow, better qualified.”

        Nixon/Kennedy debates: Kennedy looked better on camera. History has shown us that Kennedy was, in reality, quite a dangerous president in more than one way. (Not that Nixon was “safe” either.)

        Reagan had decades of work experience that gave him a natural ease in front of the camera. Even a mediocre actor is a better actor than the vast majority of the population. It made a huge difference.

        Now Trump. I figuratively tremble to contemplate that I keep seeing Hillary Clinton in the news more and more frequently. She went with Bill to a Shania Twain (I think, I’m not too good with classical music) concert. I am terrified that she (HRC, not Twain) is going to announce that she’s running in 2020.

        Still hoping for a Bernie Sanders announcement soon.

      • Of course I know that people have been qualified.

        I guess what I was trying to say is that heart matters more than qualifications. Or at least, at this time of continued decline, I am willing to gamble on heart.

        Did you watch the interview? Are you telling me that you would fear for that man to be president?

        I wouldn’t. He seems a smart, humble, enlightened gentleman. Good enough for me, and a huge improvement.

        Yeah, of course, we need qualified people there to do the research, planning and advising, but I’d prefer a humanist with heart at the top making the decisions.

        And he could win!

        Or if not him, someone like him. Comedians, of course, are the sharpest and quickest; whereas the actors seem to have the best understanding of the human condition. So yeah, Actor/Comedian ticket. Best of both worlds.

        I agree with your analysis re: Nixon, Kennedy, Reagan, Trump. Thanks, good points.

        However, I hope past failure–the fact that those celebrities weren’t all they were cracked up to be–won’t keep us from trying again. What the fuck, we keep trying traditional politicians over and over again.

        Trump’s shown the power of celebrity and “ease in front of the camera” (as did Kennedy/Reagan). It’s a nuclear force. Unstoppable.

        We just need a good one. As with our normal elites.

      • «I am terrified that she (HRC, not Twain) is going to announce that she’s running in 2020.» Trump-Clinton 2.0 – see there, a repris the world is waiting for !… 😉


      • For the last century, almost all top political appointments [on the planet Earth] had been made by random computer selection from the pool of individuals who had the necessary qualifications. It had taken the human race several thousand years to realize that there were some jobs that should never be given to the people who volunteered for them, especially if they showed too much enthusiasm. As one shrewed political commentator had remarked: “We want a President who has to be carried screaming and kicking into the White House — but will then do the best job he possibly can, so that he’ll get time off for good behavior.

        Arthur Charles Clarke, Imperial Earth


    • Arthur C. Clarke once wrote an excellent editorial criticizing the American presidential elections. I don’t remember his words exactly (can anyone find it?)

      But something to the effect that the last person you want for president is someone who is willing to spend millions of dollars to get the position. Rather you want some bookish law professor who has to be drug screaming and kicking into the oval office, but will do a good job in hopes that he will be let out early.

      Food for thought.

  2. Both the smallest and the largest states have two senators.

    A Senate majority can be composed of Senators elected only by the votes of the least populous states, making possible the representation of voters in the senate by as little as 11% of the total eligible voting population.

    So an 11% minority could decide national policies and Supreme Court seats, and Electoral College results in presidential elections.

    This constitution needs to be fixed because it IS fixed.

    Fix it or burn it. Or be a slave to the document designed by slavers to enable minority rule.

    • Glenn – I know you’ve got a real hate-on for the founders, but please try to be accurate in your criticisms.

      1) Only the southerners were slave holders, and not all of them were in favor of slavery.

      2) If you want you state that the Constitution enables minority rule, I will have to ask you to document that. (using only the founding documents: Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution itself as a reference.)

      While you can find some quotes from some individuals who would have made this country an oligarchy, the document they actually produced most assuredly does not ‘enable minority rule’ (we did that to ourselves after the fact.)

      • Bullshit on 1).

        A careful reading of the 13th Amendment will reveal to you that slavery still does exist, albeit conditionally, but not without consequence.

        Prisoners are being employed in California to fight fires without any or little monetary compensation (like a dollar a day), as allowed under the 13th Amendment.

      • Glenn – I”m afraid you’ve got the Senate thing exactly 100% ass-backwards. The fear at the time was that the House of Representatives would enable large states to dictate to smaller states, so they reached a compromise wherein one house of congress represented the populace equally, while the other represented the states equally. I do agree that this has become outdated, but that has no effect on the founders’ original intentions.

        I am indeed familiar with the 13th Amendment, but I don’t see what it has to do with my original comment. It neither serves to prove nor disprove the assertion that it was only the southerners who were slave owners, and that not all of them approved of the practice.

        But I am pretty sure there haven’t been any slave ships entering port since 1789. Moreover, I am really, really, sure that requiring a convicted felon to work off his debt is an altogether different thing than buying and selling other human beings.

      • Shit – dates wrong, my bad (too many web pages open)

        13th Amendment was passed in 1865 – the original founders were dead and so had very little say in it.

      • I’m not as concerned with the Founders as you are, as much as how the system works now.

        But, so that you don’t think that I’m letting them off the hook, they were slavers.

        My point is the over-representation in the Senate by small states versus the large states, population-wise.

        You being a conservative Democrat should be able to see that two recent elections went to Republicans because of the Electoral College which over-represents small states by giving them proportionally more electoral college members.

        There are states that have only one person in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate, giving three in the Electoral College.

        The Founders allowed Blacks to be counted as 3/5 of a person in the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives.

        So, how you can cling to your Originalist interpretation of the Constitution despite hamstringing Democrats, and insuring Republican presidents and Supreme Court members will have the numbers to strip small d democracy to a greater extent than the Founders did, is beyond me.

        “Opinions are spread abroad on a quantative scale and…the leading position always goes to what is easiest to grasp, that is, whatever is easier and more comfortable for the human spirit.

        “Indeed, the man who has fully educated… himself…can always reckon to have the majority against him.”
        —Goethe, 1829

      • > I’m not as concerned with the Founders

        You certainly spend a lot of time denigrating them for someone who is unconcerned. Let me remind you of the assertion you are trying (and failing) to substantiate:

        “the document designed by slavers to enable minority rule.”

        Yeah, some other stuff has happened in the ensuing two-anna-half centuries, but that stuff was done by other people. We’re talking about the people who ratified the document in question.

        > how you can cling to your Originalist interpretation of the Constitution

        ‘cus it beats the hell out of an “interpretation” that has absolutely nothing to do with the framers’ intent.

        > they were slavers.

        Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. SOME were slavers, that is undeniably true. SOME weren’t, that is also undeniably true. Trying to claim otherwise weakens an already weak argument.

        > You being a conservative Democrat

        Would you care to step outside and say that, needle-dick?

        Or at the very least, would you care to say anything relevant to my original critique? Back up your statement with relevant documents as requested? Defend yourself with anything other than wild accusations and irrelevancies?

        I didn’t think so.

      • @CH

        Your worship of the Founders and their Constitution is very similar to that of the God worshipers and their Bible worship. Very funny when the object of their worship is not read and understood, but only worshiped.

        These worshiped objects are the god-like conceptual objects that I am atheist to, these political theological objects.

        I refuse to be hammered into the shape that Democrats and Republicans want me to be in, so hammer away.

      • @CH

        You have the zeal of a fanatic.

        You are too old for that. You’re going to pop a blood vessel.

        I hope you have good health insurance, and not that crappy Obamacare, the one modeled on Republican Massachusetts governor Willard “Mitt” Romneycare.

        Don’t punch your screen either.

      • Gee whiz, Glenn, you’re starting to remind me of Glick.

        You make a bunch of assumptions that have nothing whatsoever to do with what I’ve said and then insult me for the nonsense YOU pulled out of YOUR ass.

        While at the same, you completely fail to address the that which I actually did say. I guess I’ll have to give you the same advice I gave the evil whiz.

        “I’m happy to debate anything I’ve actually said, but feel no need to defend that which you pulled out of your ass.”

      • @CH

        You responded to my post and wanted dictate what it should have been about, ignoring what it was about.

        You are acting like a spoiled brat. Are you going to cry like Kavanaugh because I don’t respect your privilege?

        Don’t complain about changing topics, just because you can’t follow the implications of the facts I presented.

        George Washington told his father he chopped down the cherry tree because he couldn’t tell a lie.

        There, all better now?

        I hope you feel all better now that I praised your little goddy woddy.

      • :: eh-HEM ::

        “We’ve already agreed that the original intent [of the Senate] has been overtaken by events. We agree. We’re done with that part of the conversation. It’s over now. You don’t need to keep repeating yourself.”

        “I’m happy to debate anything I’ve actually said, but feel no need to defend that which you pulled out of your ass.”

        “Or at the very least, would you care to say anything relevant to my original critique? Back up your statement with relevant documents as requested? Defend yourself with anything other than wild accusations and irrelevancies?”

    • The 25 most populous states have 83.64% of the US population but only 50% of the seats in the Senate.

      The 25 least populous states have 16.36% of the US population and 50% of the seats in the Senate.

      The 16.36% will have as many Senators deciding the future of the Supreme Court as the overwhelming majority of 83.64%.

      Small state voters will have nearly 5 times the representation in the Senate than large state voters.

      • As for 2), the Constitution gives each state two senators irregardless of population.

        This not only gives greater power to the smaller states in approving Supreme Court nominees, but also weighs in their favor in the Electoral College.

      • > The 25 most populous states have 83.64% …

        … of the House of Representatives.

        We’ve already agreed that the original intent has been overtaken by events. We agree. We’re done with that part of the conversation. It’s over now. You don’t need to keep repeating yourself.

        What you do need to do is defend or retract the statement on which we disagree. (or concede loss via continued evasion. That works, too.)

      • “We’ve already agreed that the original intent has been overtaken by events. We agree.”

        I missed the part where we agreed.

        Who is this “we” you speak of?

  3. Trump rams his picks through the Senate like Mussolini, Democrats be damned.

    I see a future cartoon here, Ted. Bernard Sanders as Giacomo Matteoti against a blackshirted background ?…


  4. Glenn and No use terms similar to the ones I thought while I watched the hearings. All that was missing was Diane Feinstein fumbling through a purse looking for some candies and tissues for 20 minutes while she muttered about how she was sure she put them in there. I assume the young woman who leaned forward a couple times to whisper in her ear was her granddaughter? “Not now, Nana. We aren’t at the movies; this is your job, you have to pretend to know what’s going on.”

    The Democrats seemed not even geriatric but past geriatric. As in senescent. Doddering. Feinstein had that outburst where she didn’t seem to understand what was going on for a second or two. Bernie Sanders is old, but he’s never confused. Even Mazie Hirono, the youngster of the squad at 70 years of age, wasn’t able to read the room. When Kavanaugh was talking about Yale Law School, he said something like “it’s the best law school in the country” and Hirono’s reply was to “take strong exception” (or some such phrase) in a very serious tone of voice because she went to Georgetown Law School.

    Isn’t that hilarious? One woman is accusing someone of sexual assault, and one of the other women in the room decides to make a joke about which law school is the best. A ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Oh, you Dems, you really do understand how to take things super seriously.

    Even worse, though, were the optics of the whole event. Here comes Prof. Ford, and the Republicans insert an intermediary. Why? Oh, the stated reason was that the idea of a panel of old white men interrogating a woman claiming sexual assault wouldn’t look good. The real reason? It’s called infantilization. By doing it, the Republicans made it seem that Ford couldn’t, you know, be a big girl. She had to have a helper, she needed an accommodation because she wasn’t a gwown-up, she’s just a scared little girl who needs someone to hold her hand while under the bed is checked for monsters. That’s why the Republicans did it, to make Ford seem less mature and less of an adult. And the Democrats let it happen. Even worse, both sides kept praising Ford for her courage, her bravery, etc. When one person says it, that’s fine. But each person after that diminishes the courage and bravery of the act. It’s like when parents praise a child for being brave at a doctor’s visit and not crying when getting an immunization. “You were so brave! You were such a brave boy, we’re going to stop for ice cream because you were so brave.”

    I wish to God that the Democrats would send the worn-out feeble centrists off to some minimum-level nursing home and let the people (young AND old) who know how to get shit done run the show for a while.

  5. Great column, Ted.

    Had Sanders been allowed a fair and clean shot at the presidency the Democratic Party deadwood would have been cleared away with his victory. A victory for Sanders would have been a defeat—and an ideological rebirth—of the the party.

    But now these morbid stinking corpses, well past their use-by-date, will just lay there choking the air out of the lungs of the younger party members who still have something to live for despite the party’s collapse to its death in its failure to adapt to this brave new world.

    All the Democrats had to offer was a warmed over dish of cold war ideology, accompanied by the rattling false teeth of the old guard.

  6. Yes, Michael Moore has been saying much the same thing, that the Dems just don’t fight. IF the geriatric Dem leadership wants to survive they must fight instead of trying to look reasonable. it does not work…and if the majority of Americans are in fact more liberal than conservative the Dems must fight. In the Judiciary Cmte some of the younger Dems looked like they were fighting.

  7. It might be a dumpster fire, it might just be enough to energize “the left.” Things are changing fast enough that it might excite someone. [obligatory frog-in-hot-water analogy]

    One things for certain: the next two years are going to be interesting to watch. (I predict a Trump loss next time, especially if we get a Warren/Sanders ticket…)

    • CrazyH,

      I still think a Sanders/Warren ticket would be better. Especially if about one year into the first term, Warren has a DNA test and announces the results at a press conference. “Apparently my family lore does not bear up under the harsh light of science. I am truly, truly shocked, and now that I know it is not the case, I will no longer claim American Indian heritage.” Just that. Something simple and apologetic. Acknowledging an error and moving on. It’ll put her only “real” scandal well behind her by the time she has to run for president.

      But if she tries it now, again Trump, he’ll simply keep bringing it up. “Why won’t you take the test?” I remember the Lee Atwater school of political trickery: keep it simple, one side of a 3×5 index card. “No new taxes. Where’s the beef. Tear down that wall.” Trump’s crowds cheering “Take the test! Take the test!” while a few of them show up wielding boxes of Land O’ Lakes butter will be all it’ll take to sink Warren. (Crooked Hiawatha, as Trump will brand her.)

      • > I still think a Sanders/Warren ticket would be better.

        Works for me as well. I’ve read that S&W don’t want to compete against each other – both ‘cuz friends and ‘cuz “splitting the vote.” That would tend to suggest either picking the other as a running mate after winning the primary.

        I do worry about Bernie’s age. (And Liz ain’t no spring chicken.)

        meh, my family story says we’ve got some native blood. Pretty much any ‘white’ person whose ancestors have been in this country for more than a few generations has picked up some color or other.

      • You captured it perfectly “Take the test!”. I would love her to run, but will she be able to effectively fend off Trumpian attacks?

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