In Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau wonders why we are content to be miserable and do nothing about it. “How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in it, if his opinion is that he is aggrieved?” We might put this question to Democrats on the Hill. How can you think our state of affairs is so disordered, and yet do so little to change it?
Take DACA, for example. President Trump announced the end of on Sept. 5, 2017. Since then, Democrats are finding it easier and easier to abandon their principles. According to , Senate Democrats announced their willingness to move forward on a budget deal without provisions for DACA on Jan. 25. According to , House Democrats were less willing to cave; but the damage was done. DACA was off the table. reports that Democrats and Republicans alike approved a budget deal with no mention of DACA on Feb. 8. March 5, the deadline for congressional action, has come and gone. According to , Dreamers are effectively in limbo. The rejected “the Trump administration’s unusual request to bypass a federal appeals court” in ending the program, with the result that reapplications for DACA will be heard indefinitely.
The Democrats have fallen silent on DACA. Nancy Pelosi epitomizes their abject failure to defend their position. In December, quoted a resolute Pelosi promising action before the holiday recess: “We will not leave here without a DACA fix.” Three short months and of talk later, the sometimes-Speaker is strangely silent.
The Democrats have backed down on DACA. The Democrats have backed down on many things. The Democrats, while happy (per ) to criticize Scott Pruitt’s spending habits, have done little to reverse his of the EPA. The Democrats earned a mention in for their outrage over the GOP’s last-minute tax bill, but haven’t fought for an alternative since the bill’s passage. When the Trump GOP huffs and puffs, the Democrats fall down.
Clearly, the Democrats have learned nothing from 2016. Their national strategy—if I might generalize—was “We’re better than Trump, we promise.” Even Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan, “Stronger Together,” was less a unique vision than a reaction to Trump’s vitriol. Democrats need to stand for something, and do so resolutely, and tell people that they do. According to , this was one of President Obama’s first criticisms of the defeated Clinton campaign: Democrats assumed support but didn’t fight for it.
Wittingly or not, the Democrats have defined themselves as the Party that Isn’t Trump. By retreating from every fight that would enable them to maintain this weak identity, Democrats are surrendering what little character they have left. Despite this inexplicable inaction, many publications are still hoping for a “Blue Wave” this November. But the facts are simple: Democrats on the Hill are doing little.
No one votes for silence. The Blue Wave is starting to look like a blue trickle.
Consider why Democrats are giddy: they seem to be , and have the stunning special election victories of Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) and Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) to show for it. But Democrats shouldn’t hold their breath. According to , Jones won by a margin of 1.7 percent and some 20,715 votes. According to , Lamb won by just under 800 votes.
These are not numbers that make you sleep well. Yes, Doug Jones won in a red state, but his opponent had no reputation to run on. Yes, Conor Lamb won in a district which went to Trump by 20 points; but he just barely scraped by. Jones and Lamb won by a combined margin just north of 1.7 percent. The reports an election poll’s margin of error at 3 percent.
The Democratic Party’s inaction has given voters little reason to vote for Democrats generally. These victories were local, not Democratic. Voters weren’t voting for Democrat Doug Jones or Democrat Conor Lamb; they voted for Jones and Lamb as good candidates in themselves. As and report, Jones and Lamb fought their way to victory with the help of massive grassroots campaigning.
Let’s assume that Democrats do in fact have their eyes set upon the House and Senate this November. They can continue to hope beyond hope that the Herculean efforts of part-time volunteers will carry them to a national victory, or they might want their full-time salaried civil servants to support national ambitions with national activity. Our politics today are refracted through the spectrum of Trump; every vote seems like a referendum on his presidency. In a nation whose eyes are fixed on Washington, how do Democrats plan to win when their presence in Washington is hardly noticed?
In sum, Democrats on the Hill need to do something—anything—if they hope for substantial victories this November. Eight long months separate Democrats from November. How much more ground can they lose? How many more people could they fail to protect, what other local efforts could they betray by their inaction and what other positions could they abandon if they continue on their present course?
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No one can deny that Democratic efforts in Congress will continue to be stonewalled so long as Republicans hold a majority. Not every Democratic proposal is good, not every Republican proposal is bad: this is simply the way things have been going. But there is no need for the Democrats to admit defeat. Victory is no sure thing, and winning it will be hard, but simply fighting and showing the will to win might show voters that Democrats can still do some good. I close with the words of Winston Churchill. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Tim Kowalczyk is a Trinity junior. His column runs on alternate Mondays.