Dan Drezner had a piece in the Washington Post the other day that illustrates exactly how we ended up in the mess we are currently in. Drezner lays bare the national media’s myopia regarding the Republican party’s transformation to an extremist party while also admitting the brazen double standard that it consistently applies for Democrats.
Drezner starts off by admitting he has never really taken the emerging threats to our democracy seriously. He writes, “Ever since Tim Snyder wrote ‘On Tyranny’ and Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt penned ‘How Democracies Die’, it has been chic to say that the common democratic values that bind our country are imperiled. This comes out particularly strongly when Trump tweets about being in office past 2024…I have found most of these scenarios pretty ludicrous”.
Of course, Levitsky and Ziblatt specifically talk about the importance of destruction of governing norms, “the guardrails of democracy”, in the collapse of democracies. And they specifically cite Republicans’ refusal, under the direction of Mitch McConnell, to even consider Merrick Garland as Obama’s choice to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court as an example of the kind of breakdown that leads to democratic collapse. The fact that, for the first time in our nation’s modern history, the opposition party in the Senate refused to give the President’s nominee to the Supreme Court even a hearing, much less a vote, did nothing to shake Drezner’s faith that our democracy was functioning as it should.
Apparently, neither did McConnell’s determination to block everything Obama tried to do in a stated effort to make him a one term president; nor did the surge of racial and partisan gerrymandering and expanded efforts at voter suppression by the Republicans after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act; nor did the endless pursuit of BENGHAZI! with the expressed purpose, admitted by Kevin McCarthy, of simply damaging the likely Democratic nominee; nor did the sight of GOP legislatures stripping powers from newly elected Democratic governors; nor did the emergence of Donald Trump with his endless lies and white nationalist rhetoric; nor did Trump’s campaign coordinating their message around documents stolen by Russia; nor did Trump’s multiple attempt to obstruct justice in the Mueller investigation; nor did Trump’s decision to deny the legitimacy of Democratic oversight and refusal to honor valid subpoenas for documents and testimony based on wholly illegitimate claims of privilege; nor did Trump’s efforts to turn the State and Justice Departments into tools for his personal interests and profit; nor did Trump’s threats against Clinton to “lock her up”, which continued well after the 2016 election, because that was merely part of what Drezner describes as Trump’s “rhetorical excesses”. None of that made Drezner really worry that our democracy might be seriously eroding.
No, the thing that really made Drezner worry was reading a Politico piece describing “regime cleavage”, where “a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions and laws may be ignored, subverted or replaced” and then hearing “lock him up” chants at a Bernie Sanders rally. Says Drezner, “Let’s stipulate that Trump opened up this Pandora’s box three years ago during the 2016 campaign…Let’s further stipulate that among president Trump’s multiple impeachable offenses while in office are acceptance of foreign emoluments, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. Let’s even allow that he might deserve to face prosecution after his time as president. This [the ‘lock him up’ chant] is still a disturbing chant, however, and I wish Sanders had shut it down…Tolerating ‘lock him up’ chants reeks of mob justice, which is pretty antithetical to the rule of law. It epitomizes the shift from political cleavage to regime cleavage”.
This is a most remarkable view on the current state of our democracy. Yes, Drezner will stipulate that Trump has abused his office and power in almost every way that is antithetical to our democratic values but Democrats must make sure that they don’t object to those abuses too loudly or too obnoxiously or they will be the ones engaging in mob justice and undermining our democracy, despite using the exact same rhetoric as Trump and his supporters in 2016. It is the height of both-siderism to actually compare the totally fallacious Clinton email server scandal and Trump’s myriad of impeachable offenses. Moreover, it was Drezner and the national reporters in his sphere that continually hyped what they all knew was a bogus scandal, made it into the biggest story of the 2016 election, wrote more about Trump’s so-called “policies” than the fact that he was a serial fraudster and con-man, and somehow managed not to find public information about Trump’s tax, insurance, and bank fraud until after the election. It was the willful acts of Drezner and his ilk that directly led to the criminal Trump presidency. “Lock her up” was never about any actual crimes, just another way to delegitimize Democrats. “Lock him up” is a response to multiple documented crimes — felony campaign finance violations, multiple instances of obstruction of justice, and now a pretty clear case of bribery and extortion for personal gain, using US taxpayer funds for that purpose, all in an effort to get a foreign country to interfere in our country’s most basic and elemental democratic process, an election. It is a plea not to allow another rich white collar criminal to simply say sorry for his crimes and walk away scot free.
If all this wasn’t bad enough, Drezner goes on to compound his cluelessness saying Democrats should be careful with their language because it might prompt Trump to commit even more crimes. He actually writes, “Furthermore, if these chants [of ‘lock him up’] become more frequent, there is a practical effect on Trump’s behavior. The more convinced he becomes that losing in 2020 would imperil his freedom, the more likely he will push for even more egregious forms of cheating than extorting the Ukrainian president to get dirt on the Bidens. Ballot fraud, rigging vote counts — you name the dirty deed, Trump will embrace it if he knows his only other recourse is prison.” Drezner is actually arguing that Democrats should not press Trump about his crimes so that he won’t commit any more additional ones.
But Drezner’s denouement is where he really tells us the truth. He writes, “Am I holding Sanders and other Democrats to a higher standard than Trump? You are gosh-darn right I am.” And that, my friends, is exactly why we have Trump and Trumpism in a nutshell. Trump and the Republicans can get away with the most outrageous abuses because the press will not hold them to any reasonable standard. But Democrats must always be held to some higher standard, must always use their political capital for the greater good of the entire country at the expense of the actual Democratic agenda.
It was the Republicans who used mob justice to shut the vote down in 2000, but it was Al Gore that the press asked to simply accept the wholly illegitimate Supreme Court ruling that handed the election to Bush. For forty years, Republicans have passed tax cuts that explode the deficit, but they still get a free pass by claiming that those cuts will pay for themselves, a lie proven by forty years experience. It was under Republican leadership that we suffered the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression, with Bush having taken the surplus left to him by Clinton and turned it into the largest deficit since WWII, but it was Democrats who were forced to trim back efforts to lift the country out of recession because the press regurgitated Republican complaints about the deficits that they themselves created. Trump passed a tax cut that even its own rosy analysis claimed would increase the deficit by $1 trillion, but when Elizabeth Warren lays out her plan to pay for Medicare for All without raising middle class taxes, the press just writes it off as “unrealistic” without really challenging the actual details of the plan.
The “lock her up” chant is also yet another example of how Republicans use political tools frivolously and in such a brazenly partisan manner, it renders those tools less effective for Democrats in the future. “Lock her up” had no basis in reality but “lock him up”, a reasonable reaction to a criminal presidency, is simply resorting to GOP tactics that should be beneath Democrats and will undermine our democracy. The impeachment of Bill Clinton over lies about a consensual affair was also frivolous and wholly partisan. So now the impeachment of a thoroughly criminal President must be bipartisan or it won’t really be “legitimate”.
I have to say, Drezner’s piece was one of the most infuriating and depressing pieces I’d seen in a while. Drezner is far from a Trumper and a pretty well respected reporter. But his myopia about just how extremist the Republican party has become and his seeming complacency about just how much Trump and the GOP have done to destory our governing norms and undermine our democracy is frankly frightening. As Masha Gessen warned us back in 2016, it shows just how much some inside the Beltway have become normalized to our current march toward autocracy.
(h/t to Paul Campos over at LGM for photo)
Originally published at https://thesoundings.com on November 7, 2019.