What is complicity? The British liberal titan John Stuart Mill gives a hint: that action and inaction toward the same object carry equal weight. It does not matter whether we committed some act, or did not prevent it: we bear some blame either way.

This principle bodes ill for the sitting Democrats in Congress and the “mainstream media,” whose meaningful opposition to Trump is conspicuous by its absence. For example Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) was gagged for mentioning then-nominee Jeff Sessions’ non-existent civil rights record. And Sen. Cory Booker (D, NJ) has offered ripostes to Trump. And myriad news outlets have lambasted Trump and sought Russian skeletons in his closet. But in recent months, the “opposition” has polarized and become lethargic around two ideas: show that Trump is likely the worst president in our history, and find evidence for an impeachment as quickly as possible.

The Democratic strategy is not working. The party is relying upon the same playbook which lost in 2016 and which stands to make no significant gains in 2018: “We’re better than Trump and you know it.” Impugn-and-impeach is nothing more than the ideological spitting match at which Trump is skilled. The Democrats are placing their cards directly into Trump’s hands.

Trying to denounce Trump in order to force him to desist assumes that he operates in a paradigm of accountability foreign to him. There was once an unspoken agreement that kept politicians in line. Some prominent person says something; it is found to be inappropriate; and that person at least tacitly accepts blame or at best apologizes. Case in point: even President Obama monitored the pulse of common opinion well enough to know when his drone strikes and detention policies warranted a veiled mea culpa.

But accountability works only if the accused party flinches; and that is something Trump never does. He built a career on avoiding it.

I wonder whether the Democrats really researched Donald Trump, whose record shows him capable of sidestepping and strong-arming his way from one petty advantage to the next, keeping his profits nominal, ego inflated and head above water. Accuse Trump into a corner, and he fights his way out. Despite allegations of sexual assault, racial discrimination, collusion with a foreign power—and that is the short list—Trump was elected president. If there is one way to lose to Donald Trump, it is to play his game: and the Democrats are doing exactly that.

And that is exactly why the Democrats should either begin acting now or brace for further failure. They have talked about how bad Trump is. They have investigated how bad Trump is. They have done nothing about it. Who do they talk to, exactly? Their own base, under-mobilized in 2016, or swing voters disaffected by Trump’s errancy, or perhaps to Trump’s camp itself. Their talk is wasted on the base and swing voters. The majority agrees with the basic “Trump is Bad” narrative. Gallup places 60 percent of Americans against the President as of Aug. 28. We really, truly get it. And their talk is useless against Trump loyalists, who voted for Trump in part because he undermined the authority of the liberal establishment.

The time has come for the Democrats to choose: to talk progress into being, or to act to make it happen.

I readily appreciate the irony of condemning talk by talk alone. But in the spirit of embracing what I argue, I sketch below what I hope is a way that Democrats can break out of the “they-say, I-say” cacophony over which Trump is maestro.

The Democrats must stand for something again. It is easy to stand against something; but progress comes when we are for something. People join a cause when it is going somewhere. And “Better than the Competition, We Promise” promises little. This new message must involve a vision of America offered for its own sake and pursued on its own merits. Trump can win when he is on the defensive: so, rob him of his “victimhood.” Offer a new plan, and which him struggle when he can no longer play his game.

Whatever they stand for, Democrats must articulate it simply and practically. Their campaign was a case study in how not to communicate with voters: they dryly discussed procedure and ideals, giving stump speeches in the language of the ivory tower. Sound proposals were made useless by a simple inability to express them. Trump’s Republicans, thanks in no small part to their sometimes-sweetheart and current commander, disguised myriad tone-deaf policies and vitriol as simple action items that spoke to specific wants—and did it so well that hatred became appealing. 

Do not misunderstand my evaluation as containing even the slightest approval or respect for the debacle the GOP has achieved: I only face a difficult conclusion. Poor presentation helped a former Secretary of State and Senator to lose; plain talk convinced many that Trump meant what he said.

But what are the stakes of such action by the Democrats? Their status as a moral party. I would wager that in 2018, and certainly in 2020, the most valuable political capital will be a record of resistance to Trump. I am hard-pressed to think of a single Democrat on the Hill who has done much more than talk. It is shameful that those with the power to act do nothing. Nevermind the future of the party, real people are suffering real problems while all the Democrats do is quip about just how bad the problems are. 

They ought to heed Cicero: “Nothing stands out so conspicuously, or remains so firmly fixed in the memory, as something which you have blundered.” Let the Democrats act, or share the blame for Trump’s America. 

Tim Kowalczyk is a Trinity junior. His column, "the academy matters," runs on alternate Thursdays.