Trump’s Personality Distracts from Policy Issues

Daniel Nerenhausen, Contributing Writer

The time of simple post-election anger and condemnation has passed, leaving the party of progress and activism faced with a profound question: What, in practice, does it mean to fight President-elect Donald Trump? Much of the reaction I have observed thus far, particularly here on campus, has been indignation with Trump’s vile immorality and with the rest of the country’s ignorance.

This reaction has led some, like journalist Paul Waldman, to look to Republican Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell for opposition guidance, summarizing his insights from 2009, “Obstruction is generally something you’re unlikely to pay a price for, because most voters will decide that ‘Washington’ isn’t working and put blame on the party that holds the White House, even if the fact that it isn’t working is completely the other party’s fault” (“Why Democrats Need to Fight Donald Trump from the Moment He Takes Office,” The Washington Post, Nov. 17, 2016).

It is disturbing to hear a respected journalist advocate for essentially the same tactics of blind obstructionism that have weakened our nation’s faith in its democratic institutions over the last eight years. Democrats must be disciplined and not allow ourselves as a party to obsess over Trump’s personality and failings nor use our opinions of his unfitness to serve as the sole justification of our opposition. In doing so, we only inflate Trump’s image as a man of the people shackled by Washington’s elite.

Our despair must instead be more productive, as that is exactly what Trump’s pronouncements and policies do — induce despair. Trump is akin to a Machiavellian tyrant, sowing seeds of fear and distrust and thereby preventing oppositional coalitions to form. If problems are intractable, if we come to believe there is nothing we can do, we are defeated before the horses are out of the gate. Cynicism breeds complacency.

Democrats should instead focus on crafting and promoting policies with broader and sounder appeal. Liberals must shed their neoliberal, technocratic solutions to large-scale problems that struggled to resonate with many Americans, as this election painfully highlighted. The Democratic Party has somehow allowed itself to drift from the days of Franklin Roosevelt, when it was seen as the party of the working man, despite the fact that, at their core, liberal beliefs are still more favorable to economically depressed, oft-ignored constituencies than those of the Republican Party they so overwhelmingly supported.

With the divisive, ham-fisted and oppressive policies Trump and his Legion of Doom hope to enact, we will see flowers of opposition blooming from many corners, both expected and unexpected. It is the Democratic Party’s responsibility to cultivate and unite these scattered pockets of dissent to at least create a groundswell of opposition that Trump and Republican legislators will be forced to recognize.

This battle is not limited to Washington. Much of this effort to find unity in opposition relies on local-level resistance at Oberlin and elsewhere. We must counter the trend toward identity politics that emphasize differences as the central truth of political life and instead organize around our similarities. The list of groups hurt by Trump is varied and only looks to become longer and more varied. This variation plays into Trump’s strategy to divide and conquer, so we must instead utilize it as a tool to counter him. As Trevor Noah wrote in a Dec. 5 op-ed for The New York Times, “We can be steadfast on the subject of Mr. Trump’s unfitness for office while still reaching out to reason with his supporters. We can be unwavering in our commitment to racial equality while still breaking bread with the same racist people who’ve oppressed us.” Democrats have a history of picking themselves off the floor, dusting themselves off and organizing a comeback, and if there was ever a need for a comeback, it’s now.