Though it is possible that Donald Trump will be removed from office before Tuesday, November 3, 2020, he may yet survive and force those who fear he is destroying America to confront him at the ballot box.
For Democrats and progressives of all stripes, there will be two dimensions to this choice. The first is simple: Can we persuade other Americans to reject President Trump’s odious, law-breaking behavior?
We are all hoping that answer for everyone will be an easy and powerful yes. But even if they do, it still may not be enough to bar him from another term.
To do that, progressives must also pursue a second goal: that of demonstrating to other Americans that we — our candidates, our party and our allies — are motivated not just by rage but also by love of country.
Here Trump has laid a trap. Like every tyrant, he insists that he is the very embodiment of our nation, and thus any attack on him is on attack on the country itself. He lards every tweet, speech, and press conference with seemingly patriotic comments. And at his rallies when he hugs the flag and shouts that his opponents should love America or leave it, his followers react with delirious approval. Progressives and other Democrats dismiss all of this as a sham, but in doing so we expose our own weakness.
This isn’t just about Trump. Progressives have long drawn energy from their outrage that America has not fully lived up to its own stated values. And Republicans, while blindly supporting a leader who may be controlled by a foreign power, have long tried to smear Democrats as people who hate their own country.
And when we respond solely with disbelief and fury, our reaction risks inadvertently confirming the right’s calumny.
Let’s imagine an independent voter, someone working in a regular job in a regular part of the country, someone perhaps whose parent, sibling or child served in the military. They have grown up believing that America was great and, though struggling with new problems, still is great; that it is a good thing to love one’s country and to believe in its founding values.
Yes, yes — some of those voters may also be xenophobic white supremacists, determined to roll back the clock to a nostalgic America that only worked for some. But certainly, some of them aren’t? What if some just want to find the party and the candidate through which they can express this elemental patriotism?
I am a progressive born in the late 1950s. I was one of the school children who enthusiastically marched into my public school’s auditorium to watch the launch of the Mercury astronauts on a tiny black and white TV. I was proud that our national heritage has retained enough of a revolutionary heart that despite long and inexcusable delays we have also been willing, generation after generation, to confront our failures.
Of course, we still have a long way to go. But as we confront brutal totalitarianism in China, Russia, and North Korea; as we watch the strengthening dictatorships in the Philippines, Hungary, Brazil, and Turkey; as we witness the brave actions of the people of Hong Kong, we must remember that democracy is hard to establish, easy to lose, and costly to win back.
So, with one year to go, here’s my question for my fellow Democrats and progressives: Do we still love America, if not for everything it is, but for what it retains the potential to become?
And can we actually express this love out loud? Can we use our love to paint a picture of the future that inspires and draws people in?
If the answer to the questions is yes, if we can present and defend a vision of the future that offers hope for today and for generations to come, then Trump and everything he stands for will be rejected.
But if the answer is no, we will no longer need Trump to destroy the unifying dream of the American republic. Through our silence, we will have done that ourselves.