Lessons for “The Resistance” from the Bush Resistance
Trump’s ban of travelers from seven Muslim countries spawned a large backlash, showing that “the resistance” is still a thing. I suspect it will continue to be a thing, because Trump is going to do much which enrages people who already believe he is a fascist.
It is little commented on now, but when Bush was ramping up for his invasion of Iraq, millions of people came out against it, world-wide. Most US allies of any significance–apart from Britain–refused to participate. The war went ahead anyway, and in its shadow there was resistance. I was part of that, the Netroots.
The Netroots opposed Bush directly when possible, and it also sought to make the Democratic Party better because we had noticed that enough Democrats (and in many cases almost all) Democrats had signed off on the worst parts of Bush’s regime. Gore, had he been in power, might not have been quite so bad, but the Democrats weren’t really opposing Bush strongly, and some of them were absolutely terrible–straight-up collaborators. Joe Lieberman, for example. (Who was also Obama’s mentor in the Senate.)
It should be clear that the Netroots was pretty organized: We communicated behind the scenes, and often coordinated. We were in constant contact with Democratic Party staffers, and had access to many Democratic Congress members. They saw that we had reach, and, being politicians, they wanted to use that reach. Even people who despised us, like Clinton, came to Netroots.
In 2006, Republicans lost control of the House. The Netroots had helped with that, and we had hopes and expectations.
They were quickly dashed: The House caucus had taken our help, sure, but they had no intention of seriously opposing Bush’s wars or his vast over-reach on civil liberties and executive power.
Then, in 2008, Obama won. He took some of our help, but he didn’t buy it. Unlike the Democrats in 2006, many of whom had pretended to agree with us and had been willing to work with us, Obama did not work with the Netroots. During the entire campaign, the only time he reached out to us was during a period of a few weeks when he was losing to McCain in the polls, and even that was pro-forma.
Obama built his own grassroots organization, and he didn’t go through the blog gatekeepers (there were exceptions, one A-list blog of the time was the favored dumping ground for Obama oppo research). Instead, Obama’s supporters, and very likely operatives, flooded the comments and diaries. Obama got the support of Netroots supporters without having to give anything to the Netroots organizers.
By “give anything,” I mean “policy concessions.” And while there was plenty of petty careerism in the Netroots, that was never the issue. Since 2008, many people who were part of the Netroots at that time have been taken on and given jobs by various organizations associated with the Democrats. The trivial amount of money required to buy out the “alpha activists” wasn’t the question–control was.
Obama was very clear about his contempt for the Netroots. He thought that we didn’t understand how politics worked and how good things happen. He was explicit, you can read it in Obama’s original post at DKos.
So Obama got in power, he bailed out the banks, he fucked over ordinary home-owners, he increased deportations and ramped up drone assassinations. He was far harsher on whistleblowers than Bush had been and he re-signed all the bad bills when the time came, like the Patriot Act and the AUMF, which had given Bush massive executive power and carte-blanche to spy, and assassinate, and go to war.
Obama institutionalized Bush. Oh, he drew back on some things, but he advanced others, and he left the basic power structure in place and the legal structure. Then he went to war with Libya, which while it killed less people than the Iraq war, was the exact same type of war crime as Bush had committed: aggressive war on a non-threatening country. This is what the Nazis were hung for in Nuremburg.
Note that the Democrat-controlled House and Senate of 2009/2010 was no better than Obama, they did not push him to be better.
The Netroots hadn’t quite given up yet. They had one last hurrah in 2010 when they tried to primary Blanche Lincoln. Obama came out strongly in support of her and she won. The Netroots, what was left of it, collapsed (no results, crashing traffic and a cash crunch from other sources).
Six years, later Trump won the election. The apparatus put in place by Bush to allow him to commit his crimes and over-reach was not just still there, it had been extended significantly in terms of whistleblower prosecution, drone assassination, spying on journalists, immigrant incarceration, and surveillance state powers and capabilities.
Trump inherited a more powerfully oppressive system than Obama did, even if Obama had not always used it as oppressively as Bush (though in some cases he had been worse).
There are a couple lessons to learn from this.
The first is that while partisan Democrats may be one’s allies when opposing a Republic president, their opposition is opportunistic and not principled. The second they are in charge, they will support or wave aside the same actions they condemned coming from a Republican. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with partisan Democrats, it means understand when they’ll stop fighting AND that once they don’t need you, they will regard you as a threat and seek to to eliminate you.
The second is more important: The control of a party matters more than the results of any individual election.
This is where half the readers will disagree, indeed, they will disagree violently and emotionally.
But there’s a reason that the US is where it is: After each over-reach, after each extension of executive powers, to the creation of police state and the waging of war, the Democrats didn’t roll back the worst excesses when they got into power, NOR did they push the lever further to the left. In fact, Clinton had many policies worse than Reagan/Bush (welfare, crime) and Obama had many policies worse than Bush Jr., as has been discussed.
In order to stop the next Trump, not just this one, you must have control of a party to the point that they are forced to roll back the terrible laws and policies of the last 40 years–and not just roll them back, but start pushing the lever even further towards equality, away from oligarchy, and towards civil liberties and widespread prosperity.
If you do not do that, your victory over Trump is temporary. You win against him, but you do not win against what caused him, and what he represents.
The right-wing understands that. The Netroots said “More and better Democrats,” and while it had some successes, it didn’t have enough, because it failed repeatedly at primarying bad actors.
The Tea Party succeeded: They were able to remove enough Republicans they objected so that the ones who remained were scared to cross them. While doing so, they were willing to lose seats, because they understood that Republicans who would not vote for them when the chips were down might as well be Democrats. (This is where the screams about the Supreme Court would be inserted. There is truth to this, but you are now losing it anyway.)
If the Resistance wants to really succeed, to really make the US a better place, it must learn the lesson of those who fought and failed before. If you succeed at getting rid of Trump without changing the trajectory of US economy, foreign policy, and disrespect for civil rights, you have done little more than kick the can down the road.
Changing what Democrats WANT to do, who they want to be, and what sort of country they are actually willing to vote for and work to build, is what matters. Objectively, Obama and Bill Clinton contributed massively to the ills which lead to Trump. That needs to stop. There needs to be a Democratic President who rolls back what has been done, and then moves strongly to the left. Who dismantles the legal, regulatory, and institutional framework for tyranny, and who actually reduces inequality and increases prosperity for all Americans in a clear way they can feel.
Failure to achieve that, and, in tandem, to achieve a Congress which would work with such a president and oppose the inevitable future Republican presidents, will equal failure for the Resistance, no matter how many small successes they have, or even if they are able to remove Trump through impeachment or loss in 2020.
Slowing the rate of the downward spiral the US is on is good. Stopping it from getting worse is better. Reversing it and making it better is best and is necessary for long-term success and long-term security against leaders like Trump.
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