A Left-Right Coalition Against Trump Can Work - But Only Under One Condition
Who could be against the idea that liberals and conservatives should unite around the proposition that President Trump is unfit for office and should be removed from the presidency? The question takes on added urgency as the rule of law, the principle of arithmetic and the practice of congressional order are abandoned in Washington, while criminal indictments of Trump’s advisers proliferate. As E.J. Dionne notes in the Washington Post, "Our political foundation is rotting away."
With an ignorant, shameless man in the White House, with command of 4,000 nuclear weapons, one would hope Americans of differing political views could unite around a program of opposition.
Last week Lawfare blogger Ben Wittes, a devout centrist, proposed such a program in 18 tweets. In the Daily Beast, reliably liberal journalist Michael Tomasky said he is ready to sign up, not the least because, he says, liberals don’t have to concede any core principles.
I see Kristol and George Will popping up on MSNBC, I see Max Boot emerge as one of the most powerful critics of Trumpism around, and I peruse Jennifer Rubin’s columns that with each passing week are reading more and more like Molly Ivins’. Irving Kristol, Bill’s father, famously said that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality. Today, a liberal is a conservative who’s been trumped by it.
They’ve changed. Not me. I’m happy to make common cause with them.
I would be, too. I agree with virtually all of Wittes’ 18 points and I know many conservative and libertarians who will, too. Charles Sykes, conservative blogger turned anti-Trump author ("How the Right Lost Its Mind"), told me in a recent interview he’s ready to join with the left in opposing Trump.
“We’re in an emergency. Left and right don’t agree on much, but those few things we do agree on are now in danger: rule of law, free speech, the democratic process," he said. "The question is, can we work together?”
In principle, yes. I have no problem working with Sykes, who is a Marco Rubio Republican whose policy positions I don't share, or with Wittes, who is an advocate of a drone war that has spread chaos and state failure the world over. I wouldn’t even have a problem working with a Kristol or a Boot, even though they advocated the catastrophically stupid and criminal invasion of Iraq.
Politics is not religion. Sometimes it requires making common cause with people you find morally abhorrent. If Nelson Mandela could work with F.W. de Klerk to end South African apartheid, American liberals can work with Bill Kristol to end Trump’s presidency.
But for me, Wittes’ tweet #4 is the poison pill in his proposal.
#IBelieve in a temporary truce on all such questions, an agreement to maintain the status quo on major areas of policy dispute while Americans of good faith collectively band together to face a national emergency. #IBelieve that facing that national emergency requires unity. /4/
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) November 26, 2017
Dionne identifies the problem with this notion:
At the moment, political power in our elected branches (and, in effect, in the Supreme Court) is held by Republicans and conservatives. They are using Trump to push through outlandish policies on taxes and health care. They are lauding Trump’s executive orders that scuttle regulations safeguarding consumers, workers and the environment. They are ecstatic about his filling the judiciary with his, and their, allies. Progressives cannot be asked to pretend this isn’t happening. We’re a long way from a “truce."
“Trump is indeed a national emergency," writes Jeet Heer in the New Republic., "but there is no escaping the logic of partisan politics. The best way to take down the president is to strengthen the Democratic Party from within, not dilute it with fickle fellow travelers."
Heer is right that mobilizing around a centrist platform in opposition to Trumpism is a recipe for demobilizing and discouraging Democrats. But I don’t think that is what Wittes is proposing, nor what Tomasky endorsed.
What they are talking about—without using the I-word—is a left-right coalition for impeachment. That, at least, is a feasible idea, but only on one condition: that anti-Trump moderates and conservatives contribute something of value to the cause.
We know what the liberal left has to offer in the struggle against Trump: massive demonstrations; bodies (and lives) on the line to stop white supremacists; lawsuits to stop illegal and unjust policies; and votes against his actions that violate core American principles.
What does the anti-Trump right bring to the coalition table? So far, not much.
The #NeverTrump movement failed to stop, or even slow, Trump during the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. Since inauguration day, their opposition has grown more vehement, even eloquent. But they have not moderated the actions of the delusional president, nor mobilized a conservative bloc in Congress that will vote to curb Trump in any way. Nor have they made the case for removal via impeachment. On impeachment, Sykes told me, "We're not there yet."
As long as that's true, there's no basis for a left-right coalition. Tomasky is correct that the anti-Trump right seems to be moving toward the left’s position on Trump, a trend to be encouraged. But #NeverTrump words are still far more impressive than #NeverTrump deeds.
That doesn’t mean a coalition is a pipe dream; only that it must be built on practical considerations.
The Right Stuff
The example of South Africa is instructive. Mandela didn’t refuse to negotiate because de Klerk was complicit in the regime’s crimes (even though he was) or because his policies were reactionary (even though they were).
Mandela agreed to negotiate with an enemy he regarded as immoral because de Klerk had something he needed badly and did not have: credibility with white South Africans who needed convincing that the racist regime was doomed and that they had to accommodate themselves to peaceful change. Mandela put aside his moral and policy judgments for the sake of the larger goal.
In the same way, liberals can put aside moral and policy differences with the right, but only if the anti-Trump conservatives can supply something that the left can’t generate itself; namely, arguments and actions that will build support among moderate and conservative Republicans for impeachment and conviction of Trump.
If the anti-Trump conservatives supply fuel for the engine of impeachment, then a left-right coalition can succeed. After dramatic Democratic gains and/or takeover of the House of Representatives in 2018, the anti-Trump forces on Capitol HIll could put aside policy differences (temporarily) and unite behind articles of impeachment that principled Republicans (if there are any left) could vote for. That, in turn, could lead to Senate conviction of Trump, or his overdue resignation.
Tomasky is right that liberals could use a conservative partner to remove Trump. The question is, who is the F.W. de Klerk of American conservativism? And the answer is, so far, no one.