5 Facts and A Personal Vow

This will be my last blog post until September—I think. I can’t guarantee that some news development won’t send me leaping to my keyboard, however, so those of you who subscribe to this blog might be surprised.

The truth is, this year I feel guilty at even taking a few weeks’ vacation. I know that’s absurdly egotistical—as if, without this blog post reaching you, all progressive activism including my own will cease. So I remind myself that I—and you—can and will continue making phone calls and sending letters and emails and faxes to Congress from anywhere—and that there are senatorial and congressional offices across all 50 states, just waiting to be sat in.

We’ll need to stay vigilant, about the sly undoing of domestic regulations and international treaties, about how McConnell’s “repeal and delay” bill took over from “repeal and replace” when what he and Trump really want is repeal and erase, about not-in-the-headlines deportations, about surreptitious ongoing “extreme vettings,” about pardoning the unpardonable.

But when I step back to survey where we are (and you know by now that I’m no Hallmark card Pollyanna), we the people are making progress—not only in heading off the absolute worst Trump/GOP disasters so far but in incrementally moving things forward, including the pace of investigations that will eventually, relentlessly, bring the whole thing crashing down. But yes, the more cornered they feel the more vicious they’ll get and yes, it will have to get worse before it gets better, because not until then will those dazed Republicans who still think this is all too bad to be true finally get it.

So here are five heartening facts—ah, facts! remember facts?—on which to stay focused.

Fact 1: Grass-roots activism by us, and by people never before politically engaged, has had a huge impact on issues all the way from stalling and likely defeating every attempt to kill the ACA (Obamacare), down to smaller issues, like reversing the denial of visas to the teenage Afghan girl engineers trying to come to the US for a robotics competition. Local pressure—on congressional reps and senators who in turn push back against their leadership and against Trump—has accomplished this, stiffening Democrats’ spines and beginning to turn Republicans’ heads. And that will only increase the closer we get to elections next year. Activism works, by god! So we aim for the best, but with no illusions prepare for the worst. And there’s comforting news even on the worst.

Fact 2: The lawyers who helped Obama’s White House craft and adhere to strict rules of conduct for a record eight years without a scandal have formed a new group, United to Protect Democracy, to drill into issues that aren’t hitting headlines, like current West Wing staff intervention in and intimidation of regulatory agencies. Ian Bassin, who’s leading the group, says, “When people hear concerns about democracies declining into authoritarianism, they expect that moment to come in a singular thunderclap. In reality, democracies decline over a period of years through a series of much smaller steps.” But they’re ready for major battles, too. Trump’s attack on the judge who halted his immigration ban already has Bassin planning for what might happen if the White House directly defies a judicial ruling, and what they’d need to do in the ensuing constitutional crisis. Bassin says, “We need an organization specifically and holistically focused on that worst-case scenario.” Although that’s a frightening scenario, it’s deeply comforting that somebody’s already on the case!

Fact 3: Trump’s approval polls keep dropping. The Guardian, which has been quietly interviewing Trump supporters in Pennsylvania over the past months, quotes one supporter sheepishly saying, “That’s a hard thing for us humans to admit, that somebody took us over the barrel . . . actually fooled us that well.” They were promised bread and circuses—but only got the circus.

Fact 4: Historical context. Don’t forget that Nixon was reelected after the break-in to the DNC offices was revealed, with 67 percent approval ratings at his second inauguration. It wasn’t until the Senate Watergate hearings were televised day after day that the nation realized this was not a journalists’ plot or “politics as usual.” History does seem to repeat itself. From July to September 1973, the percentage of people saying Watergate received “too much media attention” jumped up from 40 to 50 percent in Harris polling, and insistence that “the press is after Nixon” increased from 17 to 24 percent. After July 1973, when he refused to turn over to the Senate the taped Oval Office conversations, his approval rating was never again above 38 percent—which is higher than where Trump’s is today—and by 1974 it was 24 percent, when he resigned to avoid impeachment.

Fact 5: The arch-conservative press is getting publicly nervous, with some of their icons openly angry. Columnist and commentator Charles Krauthammer wrote about the Don Junior meeting, “The Russia scandal has entered a new phase, and there’s no going back. The evidence is now shown. This is not hearsay, not fake news, not un-sourced leaks. . . . . [E]ven if nothing else is found, the evidence is damning.” The Wall Street Journal itself pivoted, with a scathing July 17 editorial calling Don Junior a “dunce,” demanding “radical transparency,” and fuming “They have created the appearance of a conspiracy . . . everything that is potentially damaging to the Trumps will come out, one way or another.” That editorial would never have run without the express permission of the Journal’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, who is also either loosening the reins at FoxNews or unable to squelch the few flickers of journalistic integrity there, as in this recent exchange between anchors Chris Wallace and Shep Smith about that Don Junior, Kushner, and Manafort meeting with a Russian cast of thousands:

Smith: Why is it lie after lie after lie? The deception, Chris, is mind-boggling! If there’s nothing there, and that’s what they tell us, why all these lies?
Wallace: This really shouldn’t be a matter of liberal vs. conservative, pro-Trump vs. anti-Trump. If you’re a fair-minded citizen, you ought to be concerned about the fact that we were repeatedly misled about what this meeting concerned.

That was on FoxNews, folks.

There will come a day—I vow it, I promise you, I swear it on my copy of The Jefferson Bible in which Thomas scissored out all references to godhead and the supernatural; I swear it to you on my copy of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible, in which she denounced the “superstition of religion”; I promise, I affirm to you that there will come a day when this Republic, now painfully blinking awake, will gradually sit up, groggy, aching all over, with a foul taste in the mouth, a killer headache, roiling nausea, and swirls of vertigo; will slump on the side of its metaphorical bed with its allegorical head in its symbolic hands, and will mutter, “What in hell just happened?” This nation will heal, but slowly, while its citizens suffer overlapping after-effects: part PTSD symptoms, part hangover, part cult de-programming, part amnesia-with-flashbacks, part recovering Stockholm syndrome. This will happen once the already-in-free-fall regime of Donald Trump is exposed, but it will happen.

So now I’m going to spend some days watching blue jays and cardinals in the garden, writing, reading (including keeping up with the news!), cooking, sleeping, doing simple blessed daily catch-up routines, and reminding myself how crucial these things are, because they restore the coherence and strength necessary for what yet lies ahead—and because while fighting against their politics of death, we dare not forget the life-affirming politics we’re fighting for.

See you in September. (Or, if I can’t help myself, earlier.)