On Total War: When Do We Fight Back?

Paul Waldman, after describing how Republicans are engaging in scorched earth partisan politics–beyond what they have done historically–notes the following (boldface mine):

It is important to understand that is not normal. This is not just bare-knuckle politics. Something extraordinary is happening.

…You have a situation where a group of FBI agents is in direct conflict with prosecutors who believe the agents have a weak case in their attempt to find evidence of corruption that can be used against Clinton. The agents, in an atrocious violation of FBI policy against injecting the Bureau into an election, begin leaking dark innuendo to reporters. That convinces the FBI director that he has no choice but to go public with the fact that the Bureau is looking at some emails that might or might not have something to do with Clinton, though no one has actually read them. That news lands like a bombshell, despite its complete lack of substance.

And then it turns out that these agents are basing their investigation on a book called “Clinton Cash” by Peter Schweizer. Schweizer is the president of the Government Accountability Institute, an organization co-founded and chaired by Steve Bannon. Who is the CEO of the Trump campaign.

While the “imagine if the other side was doing this” argument can sometimes sound trite, in this case it’s more than apt. Imagine if a group of FBI agents were leaking damaging information on Donald Trump in violation of longstanding departmental policy, and it turned out that they were basing their innuendo on a book published by the Center for American Progress, which Clinton campaign chair John Podesta founded and used to run. Republicans would be crying bloody murder, and I’m pretty sure the entire news media would be backing them up every step of the way.

So our political context is that there is still a tremendous bias against Democrats, which makes this all the more disconcerting:

…now they are making it very clear that from literally the day Hillary Clinton is inaugurated, they will wage total war on her. There will be no rule or norm or standard of decency they won’t flout if it gets them a step closer to destroying her, no matter what the collateral damage.

It’s important to understand that strong institutions are what separate strong democracies from weak ones. In a strong democracy, one party can’t come into power and just lock up its opponents. It can’t turn the country’s law enforcement agencies into a partisan tool to destroy the other party. It can’t say that the courts will function only at its pleasure. We have the world’s most stable system not just because there aren’t tanks in the streets on election day, but because we have institutions that are strong enough to restrain the venality of individual men and women. And now, Republicans are not even pretending that those institutions should be impartial and transcend partisanship. They’re saying, if we can use them to destroy our opponents, we will. Something is seriously breaking down….

But there’s only one party that is so vigorously undermining core democratic institutions in this way. You may not like what Democrats stand for, but they aren’t engaging in widespread official vote suppression, chanting that should their candidate win her opponent should be tossed in jail, promising to prevent any Republican president from filling vacancies on the Supreme Court, suggesting that they’ll try to impeach their opponent as soon as he takes office, cheering when a hostile foreign power hacks into American electronic systems, and trying to use the FBI to win the election.

Only one party is doing all of that. And we should all be very worried about what Republicans will do after November 8, whether they win or lose.

Waldman is right: this is the political equivalent of war, though it’s worth noting that Republicans do have a mostly-quiet paramilitary wing to which they pander.

So the question becomes, do the rest of us fight back? I don’t ask this lightly: I know that wars are stupid things. And the idea that a ‘political’ war would remain largely non-violent is hopelessly naive. I also know that many, if not most, wars start for two reasons: first, neither side thinks they will certainly lose; second, they believe the alternative of pre-emptive surrender is worse.

And by fight back, I don’t simply mean showing up to vote–though you should obviously do that. But do Democrats–who will likely have to be pushed by their supporters and their base–start advocating scorched earth politics in return? I don’t mean lying–when the opposition nominates a con artist who has engaged in multiple sexual assaults and the possible gang rape of a thirteen year-old, all you have to do is tell the truth. But do we increase the invecttive? There is a difference between saying ‘X is a lie’ and ‘Mr. X is a liar.’ But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the mainstream of the Democratic Party–not just loudmouth bloggers like your not-so-humble author–needs to do this.

And that scares the hell out of me.

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4 Responses to On Total War: When Do We Fight Back?

  1. John Danley says:

    The second Civil War hasn’t fully landed in practice, but the GOP is forever pimping for it in principle. Fox News lust for Clinton “scandals” to compensate for a socially divisive policy platform. This is nothing but extortion promoted by the undisputed kings of obstruction, obfuscation, punitive legislation, lowering their already low standards, non-negotiable negotiation, and privileged foot dragging. When we allow chronologically-eligible adults to act like sociopathic children with impunity, this is what you get folks.

  2. Neva Knott says:

    Smart post. I do think we fight back… and I agree with your point about wars. But to fight back, we must engage daily in civic duty. Make all the public comments possible, push our representatives, contact the White House, etc., etc. And vote with our dollars–find out what monied interests are behind these manuevers, and boycott. Etc, etc. And strengthen our own positions.

  3. Brian says:

    Politics is not and never has been pretty or clean. I’m afraid the Democrats will continue with the appeasement mistakes that Mr. Obama (and Mr. Chamberlain) made, using the “high road” as an excuse to let the Republicans get away with murder. The Republican Party as it stands today and as it has been for the last 30 years is not amenable to what we think used to be the norm. Unless the Democrats hit back and hit back hard, there won’t be any progressive movement in this nation; the Republican Party is a bully, and bullies only respect being smacked down.

    This travesty of a party must be held accountable. They have grasped at every ugly, dangerous fringe element of our society in a desperate attempt to hold on to some sort of power, because their conservatism is bankrupt, empty, and meaningless. So they’ve embraced the evangelicals, the anti-abortion murderers, the racists, the homophobes, the billionaire maniacs like the Kochs and Thiel and Mercer, the neo-Nazis, and by doing so empowered them, made Limbaugh and Breitbart and the rest actual forces in our society instead of the queasily comic sideshows they should have been. There is no moving forward until this is ended, repudiated, discredited, disgraced.

    That’s the Democrats’ job these next years. Total war? This is self-defense, this is protecting ourselves. So, Hillary, investigate the FBI; investigate Chaffetz; investigate Giuliani and the Russia-Trump connection; investigate and punish every single Republican irregularity. Only then may the sane conservatives who actually care about our nation and our world finally find the space to be heard again.

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