The imperative of pulling together to beat a president who would be king

The imperative of pulling together to beat a president who would be king
Bernie Sanders image by JStone, Shutterstock

Hey, Sanders hey, Warren, hey, Biden and the rest of you. Listen, I know from party divisiveness. As a very (very!) young man, I worked on the campaign staff of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. There now will be a slight pause as you imitate explosions and other sound effects from your favorite disaster movies.


That 1972 campaign to defeat Richard Nixon for reelection began with 15 hopefuls seeking the Democratic nod, including Shirley Chisolm, the first African-American woman to run for the nomination, and Rep. Patsy Mink, the first Asian-American.

There was much dissension within the ranks—some of it, we now know, fostered by dirty tricksters from the Nixon campaign—as well as honest disagreements on issues that roiled the primary season. When the dust had cleared, McGovern was the nominee—in part because reforms he helped engineer took a lot of the electioneering out of the backrooms and gave increased power to grass roots organizing.

But sadly, McGovern’s success in ’72 ended there. As the general election race against Nixon began, his campaign was wounded by the discovery that vice presidential pick Tom Eagleton had failed to let McGovern know he had received electroshock therapy for depression. He withdrew and was replaced by Sargent Shriver. What’s more, many party regulars were resentful of the McGovern reformers; some even refused to endorse or vote for him.

In Connecticut, where I spent the fall campaign, there was a further complication—the last primary for local offices was only a few weeks before the November election and wounds remained raw. My job, with the nebulous title “field liaison,” was to mediate and try to get everyone to work together and support the ticket.

We had some success, but nationwide, the results were catastrophic. McGovern won the District of Columbia and Massachusetts, then lost the other 49 states. The nation was divided, the Democrats were divided and Nixon won big. It was a dark and rainy drive back to Washington.

Debate always is essential and dissent healthy and democratic, but in the end, disunity can mean disaster. That’s why one of the heartening moments of this week’s Martin Luther King Day was seeing Democratic presidential candidates marching together, arm-in-arm, from the Zion Baptist Church to a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina.

It was a reminder that despite all the disagreements on the issues, the feuds petty and large, the promise of social justice preached by King is universal among those candidates. It’s still only a promise, and the infighting will doubtless continue, but first and foremost, our eyes must be on the prize: defeating Donald Trump and the enablers who have made his reign the national nightmare it has been to so many. For that to happen, to rid ourselves of the man the Sanders campaign described Tuesday as “the most dangerous president in American history,” we’ll need unity and commitment.

As Trump’s US Senate trial on the charges for which he already has been impeached begins, no matter the outcome, no matter how many obstacles Majority Leader Mitch McConnell throws in its way, no matter how late into the hours of the morning he and the president’s lawyers force the proceedings, keep in mind that this president erodes our rights and freedoms every single minute of the night and day.

This is true for all of us. As several have noted over the last couple of days, it was Dr. King who wrote, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Commentator Frida Ghitis neatly summed up Trump’s impeachment defense in a tweet: “A president can break the law, withhold foreign aid, pressure a country to smear his rival; ignore Congress and cheat to win re-election. The constitution allows it all and does not permit the people to stop him.”

The coverup is calamitous, the damage to the republic wrought by this kangaroo court in the Senate approaching the irreparable. The harrumphing obfuscation from McConnell and the bloviating Trump defense team’s hypocrisy and Orwellian illogic eat away at the body politic like flesh-eating bacteria. Thank goodness for the clarity and common sense of House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff and the rest of his management squad as they nimbly rebut and put the lie to every argument of the defense.

But it’s not enough yet, especially in the face of a Senate majority that cherishes its power, money and perqs above justice, that runs in fear of a mean tweet from Trump, the potential forfeiture of incumbency or perhaps worse, the loss of a juicy lobbying job when it’s all over.

There’s a reason we don’t have a monarch in this country; the revolution was fought to overthrow a king who brooked no opposition. Try telling that to Trump or the Republican legislators who fall before him in unseemly obeisance.

Miracles aside, knowing that a Senate acquittal will soon be upon us, there’s only one way out. Okay, two ways out—there’s always the excellent chance that something so awful will be revealed that we’ll impeach him again and maybe next time convict.

No, November 3 will be our best chance and no matter the Democratic candidate, we must band together as one to make it happen—the defeat of a man who, honest to God, reportedly tried to read aloud part of the Constitution and proclaimed, “It’s like a foreign language.”

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.

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