But it is still early in the first quarter and we know what happened to the
Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl.
It was no surprise at all that Trump lost in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals when it came to his travel ban. Even though the decision was not on the merits but only on the stay, the Court indicated that the challengers were more than likely to win on the merits when it came to two constitutional claims–a Fifth Amendment Due Process claim regarding revocation of travel privileges without hearings, and a First Amendment Freedom of Religion claim. The Trump administration lost because it was sloppy. The executive order–as with most of them–are more showmanship than substance. His Administration is full of a bunch of amateurs who do not know how government works and they think they can flout the law and rules and do whatever they want. And Trump himself is unwilling to listen and take advice from those who k ow their way around Washington.
Trump’s performance after three weeks is a reminder of what I have been arguing for weeks. There is this amazing document out there called the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that has nifty things such as checks and balances, separation of powers, due process, equal protection, federalism, and an independent judiciary. These structures actually do work and mean something. They were meant to frustrate rapid political change, to make it difficult for a–as James Madison described in Federalist Paper number 10: “[M]majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”
For all those liberals or conservatives who moaned that they could not get rapid or significant political reform accomplished, in part the reason was the structural design of the Constitution meant to prevent that. Thus, for the Trumps and Jason Lewis types of the world who whine that politics in the United States is played between the 40 yard lines, guess what? It was designed to do just that. We may live in a time of polarization where many want to go for the Hail Mary pass but the reality is that in politics as in football, such plays seldom work.
But having said all the above, remember it is early still in the first quarter and lots can happen in this political game. There will be many forces converging that will tame Trump. The foreign policy establishment that is so powerful in Washington is already constraining Trump when it comes to China. Week three into his term and the Iran Nuclear deal is not torn up. No one sees the first brick being laid along the Mexican border. Free markets and returns on investment will largely doom many of the ideas to bring back coal and kill off renewable energy.
Yet complacency is a real danger, and Democrats are hobbled by it. Across the country one hears repeated talk of impeachment, or of the idea that Trump will be so inept that he will bring himself and Republicans down in 2018 and 2020. Thus, the complacency is the idea that Trump is so bad voters will return to their senses and vote for Democrats and the DFL in two or four years. One might as well wish for a pony. This was Clinton’s strategy in 2016. Remember, in part she lost because she had no narrative, no message. She assumed voters were hers. The Democrats thought their policies for the last eight if not more years were fine and that they did not need to do anything wrong. If only it were not for the FBI Director Comey letter or some other freak occurrence such as the Electoral College, she would be president. She was not the problem, the message was not the problem, the strategy was not the problem, it was someone, somebody, or something else that was to blame. That seems to be the message of the 2017 Minnesota DFL listening tour according to my friends who have attended. It is less listening and more about what we were right and the tide is now turning to the DFL and Democratic party advantage.
The reality is that Democratic party policies, narratives, and strategies, for the last generation were part of the problem. From Bill Clinton to Barack Obama the Democrats failed to treat seriously the needs of the working class. The bailed out the banks but ignored the homeowners after the crash of 2008. Obama never moved on minimum wage when he could, he failed to push for the Employee Free Choice Act to help the labor unions, he did nothing to address the role of money in politics. Democrats across the country supported tax cuts that favored the rich. No, they did not support the wholesale attack on the welfare state but neither did they endorse a major restructuring of it to improve it. Instead, they went along with the thousand nicks and cuts that undermined it.
Obama and Clinton left the Democratic Party in the weakest position it has been in since the 1920s. Hoping to run out the clock when it is only in the first quarter is not a viable game plan. Yes, the Constitution has won and it should be recognized that it sets the rules for the game of American politics. But Democrats if they are to be successful, they need to have a real team with a real game plan and strategy beyond one that assumes that Trump and the republicans will simply continue to fumble or commit fouls.