Sep 16th 2017

Taking Supper with Trump – The Need for a Very Long Spoon

by David Coates

David Coates holds the Worrell Chair in Anglo-American Studies

The Democratic Party leadership in both the House and the Senate spent last week congratulating themselves on the deal they supposedly struck with the President on legislation to protect dreamers,[i] and presumably took some pleasure too from the adverse impact of that supposed deal on Trump’s relationship with Congressional Republicans and his base.

They should not do so.

They should spend their time worrying instead about the adverse effects on the electoral credibility of a Democratic Party that gets too close to this President, and on a leadership team that – by getting so close – erodes the distance between themselves and a president who is uniquely unsuited to the office.[ii]

I

Dining with the devil always requires the use of a long spoon;[iii] and it does so in this case for at least the following reasons.

Deals made with this President don’t last one tweet-cycle.[iv] He is not dealing honestly with the Democratic Leadership, he is playing them. It may be, on this issue at least, that the President finds himself more of a closet Democrat than he normally admits; but even so, through the specifics of the deal struck last week all the parties to it are taking DACA participants on yet another emotionally-charged roller-coaster ride, for no ultimate benefit to any one of them.

Even if the deal is genuine in Trump’s mind, the Democratic Leadership is in no position to deliver it. Power lies in both Houses of Congress with the Republican majority, and they will not automatically play ball. Paul Ryan is quite right.[v] Republicans, not Democrats, decide what policy initiatives come to the House for a vote. Republican legislators may yet reconstitute the Dream Act: but if they do so, it will be because of Republican Party concerns about a loss of electoral support, not because of any supper-deal struck between Trump, Schumer and Pelosi. Indeed, for some Republican lawmakers, that deal might very well get in the way.

·      The President is only dealing with Democrats in this supposedly bi-partisan manner because of divisions within the Republican Party that the deals serve only to hide. By making deals with a beleaguered president, the Democratic Leadership team is not only helping to restore the credibility of his leadership – something they need at all costs to avoid doing. They are also letting the Republicans off the hook – a hook of which the electorate need to remain fully aware as we move towards a mid-term election season in which Democratic Party candidates could prosper.

   While making deals that look mildly progressive, this President’s Administration is simultaneously planning or initiating a whole series of reactionary policies (in the Justice Department, at Education, and at the EPA) on which Democrats need to concentrate, and which night-time deal making can only help to obscure. This is an Administration working assiduously, for example, to allow oil drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.[vi] It is one whose Education Department is working to erode critical Title IX guidance on campus sexual misconduct,[vii] and whose Justice Department is currently overseeing the re-segregation of American schools.[viii] It is one set on rolling back hard-won LGBT rights; and it is one whose head is currently struggling to avoid the full exposure of his links to Putin and the Russian Intelligence Services. This is no time, therefore, for the throwing of any kind of Democratic life-line to a reactionary Administration in free-fall.

      Any notion that this President can be “turned” on DACA runs in the face of his persistent attacks on immigrants from the Middle East and on undocumented workers from Mexico, and runs entirely counter to his long-standing antipathy to anything initiated by Barack Obama. According to Trump the birther, his predecessor as president was an original Dreamer.[ix] Trading on DACA with Donald J. Trump, were it even politically viable, would involve – at the very least – concessions on the nonsense of the Wall, and indirect legitimation of his xenophobic immigration stance. An effective political opposition cannot simultaneously strike deals and strike poses – either this man and his policies are anathema, or they are not!


II

So far from joining this president in nightline soirees and backdoor dealing, the Democratic Party leadership in Congress would do better to take a leaf from the playbook which their Republican opponents used when Barack Obama was president: that of total and principled opposition. When the Republicans treated President Obama in that way, they showed themselves in their true colors – as reactionary, as residually racist, and as devoid of concern for the least advantaged among us. They set their face against a president who possessed moderately progressive values, in the process making crystal-clear to all the ultra-conservative nature of their own. We need that clarity of difference again. Faced with a president who is uniquely narcissistic, homophobic and racist,[x] a position of principled opposition to everything Donald J. Trump stands for will make crystal-clear that the Democratic Party is none of those things.

Playing the politics of theatre with a reactionary president in political trouble runs the danger of ruining the end of the play for those of us dedicated to seeing Trump gone, and better American values dominant again in both the White House and the Congress.

First posted, with full citations, at www.davidcoates.net




[i] Maggie Haberman and Yamiche Alcindor, “Pelosi and Schumer Say They Have Deal with Trump to Replace DACA,” The New York Times, September 13, 2017: available at http://173.236.39.100/politics/progressive-opinion/225247-pelosi-and-schumer-say-they-have-deal-with-trump-to-replace-daca

 

[ii] Sean Sullivan and Anne Gearan, “In deal with Trump, Democrats see opportunity – and peril,” The Washington Post, September 8, 2017: available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/in-deal-with-trump-democrats-see-opportunity--and-peril/2017/09/08/cb1f610e-94aa-11e7-89fa-bb822a46da5b_story.html?utm_term=.8e7f87c02cd7

 

[iv] Ashley Parker, “Trump and Democrats strike DACA deal. Yes? No? Sort of? Trump’s world can be confusing,” The Washington Post, September 14, 2017: available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-and-democrats-strike-daca-deal-yes-no-sort-of-trumps-world-can-be-confusing/2017/09/14/ab6a40d4-9970-11e7-82e4-f1076f6d6152_story.html?utm_term=.91113b90b35e

 

[v] Elise Viebeck, Ed O’Keefe and Mike DeBonis, “Ryan dismisses potential DACA deal between Trump and Democrats,” The Washington Post, September 14, 2017: available at http://www.standard.net/National/2017/09/14/Ryan-dismisses-potential-DACA-deal-between-Trump-and-Democrats

 

[vi] Juliet Eilperin, “Trump administration working towards renewed drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” The Washington Post, September 15, 2017: available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-administration-working-toward-renewed-drilling-in-arctic-national-wildlife-refuge/2017/09/15/bfa5765e-97ea-11e7-87fc-c3f7ee4035c9_story.html?utm_term=.3d2dd740257b

 

[viii] Emmanuel Felton, “The Department of Justice is Overseeing the Resegregation of American Schools,” The Nation, September 25-October 2, 2017: available at https://www.thenation.com/article/the-department-of-justice-is-overseeing-the-resegregation-of-american-schools/

 

[ix] Edward Luce, “Donald Trump is mugging the American Dream,” Financial Times, September 7, 2017: available at https://www.ft.com/content/82d313b0-9189-11e7-a9e6-11d2f0ebb7f0

 

[x] Adam Shatz, “Wrecking Ball: Adam Shatz on Trump’s racism,” The London Review of Books, September 7, 2017: available at https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n17/adam-shatz/wrecking-ball

 

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