“Am I ready to be president?” An alarming number of Americans are asking themselves this question, and, after a quick look in the mirror, deciding that the answer is yes. It is a large legion of astonishingly raw talent whose names we’ve never heard of and perhaps can’t pronounce.
They can’t wait to throw their hats in the proverbial ring. A bell goes off in their heads, and they begin forming exploratory committees. Losers from lower-level races imagine finding redemption as presidential wannabes. From tweets and selfie videos come presidential contenders. In no time, they are on the royal road, schmoozing the nameless kingmakers of Iowa and holding hands with Stephen Colbert.
Perhaps you, my reader, feel as I do, that it’s a challenge to act meaningfully in response to the present political situation—despite recognizing that, as the federal government shows signs of veering off course, all citizens have a responsibility to promote stability and work together to avert an all-out crisis.
So many Americans are unhappy—worried—distressed—alarmed—embarrassed—about the state of the union. We doubt our president’s sanity, and we fear the real destruction that could follow from having entrusted the entire executive branch to someone who is vicious, immoderate, unenlightened. We are unhappy and disappointed in the condition and posture of the political parties–both the Republicans and the Democrats lack unity, ideological clarity, and discipline.
Trump gained power partly by destroying many Republican reputations; and, since, as president, he has pushed the GOP to support his style of politics and ideological viewpoint, the influence of many moderate Republicans has been checked. This has further weakened what was formerly the most effective and palatable element of that party, an element that far-right zeal has gradually eclipsed. Many formerly respected Republicans have disgraced themselves by collaborating with Trump or, by their silence and inaction in the face of his outrageous condescension toward them, have shown themselves to be terrible cowards. The hearings that placed a maudlin Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court displayed the moral bankruptcy of Trump’s Senate collaborators.
The condition of the GOP is highly worrisome because it is the nationally dominant party. For nearly three years, Trump has been cannibalizing it, eating its heart out, and injecting it with a virulent moral rot.
Meanwhile, the Democrats remain riven; not only do they remain too weak to determine the direction of national politics, but they have yet to unite around a figure or an approach capable of undermining Trump’s popular appeal.
The condition of the parties and their inability to advance a legislative agenda that could rally the nation behind a set of positive political goals, demonstrates to the nation that Trump is in fact unchecked and unchallenged. Congress can’t counter the president’s power. Watching this bizarre situation unfold every day leads many of us to perceive the federal government, and hence the entire republic of the United States, to be dangerously near a breakdown of an unpredictable kind.
That there is no leadership—that there is no coalition mobilizing and unifying an opposition—is perhaps because, though we all perceive the political actions of the president to be highly abnormal, and we all perceive the relations between the president and Congress to be in near-paralysis—what danger we are on the brink of is very unclear. Personally, I doubt the president can be impeached (that is, I don’t think the Senate has the will to convict him and throw him out–please see the post I have written on this subject), so even if we agree our affairs are in a critical state, the most constructive course is to concentrate on positive politics, on mobilizing opposition to Trump across party lines, and defeating Trump at the ballot box.
I hope we will see a resurgence of party control and even deal-making among rival candidates—this is the only way to achieve the necessary degree of unity in either party. If the Democrats have a long slug fest like they did last time, there won’t be enough time before the general to get everyone behind the chosen nominee. The challenge is even greater on the Republican side, where I hope we will see some more conventional players (like Romney and Flake) perhaps teaming up to try to rob Trump of the nomination.
The prospect of a unified opposition isn’t too bright, however. Presidential hopefuls who aren’t equipped to beat Trump or run the country are already throwing their hats in the ring. If the national parties can’t exercise discipline over such narcissistic candidates, divisions will increase, allowing Trump to retain his ascendancy. The lost art of pulling together is all-important now.