Toward a Political Rebirth
It’s been two years since I started publicly sounding alarm bells about Trump and his connections to Russia.
As has become clear from Mueller’s long list of indictments and guilty pleas, that concern was fully warranted. Each new disclosure — Paul Manafort giving polling data to a known Russian intelligence asset, President Trump covering up the details of his Helsinki meeting with Putin, the FBI opening a historic and evidence-driven counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s ties with Putin — only makes the alarm bells louder.
A long list of former close associates, from Michael Cohen to Flynn, are sharing their secrets with the Mueller investigation. Even amongst Republican allies, there is a growing scent of blood in the water.
Cohen will publicly testify on February 7th, which is likely to be explosive. Former Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein has been told that a draft Mueller report shows that Trump helped Putin to destabilize the US.
Trump is also now in political freefall, presiding over the longest-running government shutdown in US history, which is costing him approval points weekly and leading even his strongest base of non college-educated whites to start abandoning him. Many are calling it his Alamo:when he loses completely, as looks likely, he will lose the aura of invulnerability that has kept many Republicans loyal.
We can all engage in the guessing game of how this is going to play out. However, what is undeniably true is that far more people are embracing publicly that impeachment proceedings are becoming likely once the Mueller report is aired. The 2019 political landscape is likely to be defined by how America navigates this crisis.
All that is publicly-known context. Now, however, I want to shift our focus to what happens if the “nuclear scenario” indeed comes to pass this year. It is fully within the realm of possibility that Trump is fully exposed as having actively and personally conspired with Russia, and engaged in criminal activities both to help get elected and to sell our foreign policy for personal benefit. Furthermore, it’s increasingly possible that he did not engage these activities alone but with a range of accomplices, from the NRA to the Republican party apparatus to leaders like Mitch McConnell, who prevented President Obama from warning the public before the election.
In other words, what happens if the exposure of criminality by Mueller is compelling and extensive, taking down a large swath of Republican leadership alongside Trump? What will we do as a government, as a nation, and as individuals if our leadership is suddenly swept out?
I believe we need to take this scenario very seriously, not to be considered with relish but with sober reflection on what it will take in the aftermath of such an unprecedented political crisis for our country to heal and eventually emerge stronger.
Books like Seth Abramson’s Proof of Collusion have assembled all known, publicly available facts into a coherent narrative — and what these make clear is that, if this all goes down, we will face something we have never faced: a collective necessity to navigate treason and betrayal at the highest level of our country’s leadership and to heal and transform our nation in the aftermath.
The nature of so-called traditionalist values, which form the bedrock of the Republican party, are founded upon respect, reverence, and loyalty to authority. When that loyalty is betrayed at the deepest level and people are made aware that they have been taken advantage of, the psychological damage can and will run very deep, doing an almost generational level of damage.
There will, of course, be some hardcore Trump supporters who refuse to look reality in the face and cling to the illusion that it is all Fake News. There could be serious unrest amongst the more heavily armed factions loyal to Trump.
However, the 30% of the electorate who joined with Trump mainly out of tribal loyalty will face the truth and be deeply ashamed of their complicity. It will be akin, albeit on a lesser scale, to those Germans who later sought to hide their support of the Nazi regime — an effect which took over a generation to work out in the German culture.
It will be far too easy to say “I told you so” and taunt former Trump supporters than for us to feel compassion and solidarity with them. Because this process will play out over months rather than days, it’s likely there will be even more polarizing words spoken between friends, family, and allies, creating deeper rifts and lasting damage.
So how do we begin to lay the groundwork now for what is to emerge on the other side? We need to have a deeper vision of what it means to govern, what it means to serve, and what it means to be an American while also a citizen of the world.
First, the Democratic Party will need to make a profound commitment to governance for all Americans and demonstrate its leadership as an agent of positive change for all rather than simply service to its constituents. In other words, it will need to exert unifying moral leadership in a critical and difficult moment for it to do so.
Second, we need an infrastructure to support the reconnection of Americans beyond party – a kind of positive, transpartisan movement to reanimate the American Dream in a more inclusive way than politics as usual. I’ve been calling this an American Evolution, which differs from the American Revolution in that it is not about a violent separation but a shared commitment to do better. This needs to stay out of the realm of blame and instead stay consistently and dynamically focused upon reinvigorating the sense of a hopeful future. I see this as a platform for the enabling of grassroots energy for healing and rebirth.
Third, we’ll need an extensive network of activities that serve the function of truth, reconciliation, and healing on a very human level. We’ll need to compassionately hold people as they confess the fears, angers, and frustrations that they led them to their own complicity in such a dark phase of American democracy. What we can’t do is add excess shame or burden to this process for if that happens, it is likely to go underground and re-erupt in destructive ways. Just as we did on the infrastructural level, this effort must stay consistently and dynamically focused upon the reinvigoration of personal and collective hope.
Fourth, we’ll need media that celebrates the signs of rebirth and showcases the real ways that we can reform. This needs to go beyond the existing two-party apparatus into a more general upliftment of our country’s values, conscience, and civic life. We’ll need to engage in extensive work on campaign finance reform, gerrymandering, lobbying, media, and more in order to strip the distorting influences from our political process and re-commit to the nobility at the core of American democracy.
Fifth, we will need to elect more noble leaders, particularly women, whose leadership tends to create more collaboration and less warfare. In short, we have to change the climate around public service and develop a more enlightened leadership team that can address 21st century challenges with the best of American ingenuity behind them.
I believe this will be a time of great trial for our country – perhaps our most serious yet since the Civil War nearly tore us asunder – but I believe that we can, and will emerge stronger, more united, and more committed to an America that is a shining beacon of light in the world.
Hitting bottom can lead to an extraordinary recovery and inspiring redemption — and American democracy is simply too precious for all of us to leave it in a damaged state. We can, and will, rebuild it and cleanse the stain left by the corruption of the Trump era. In doing so, we will heal the divisions that have led us down this road, so we never have a need to go down it again.