People both hope for and worry about impeaching Trump and then being left with Pence. I’m not so worried by Pence. He plays by rules we know and know how to fight. And he’s about as charismatic as a piece of plywood. A McConnell/Ryan/Pence triumvirate would have great transparency and not a lot of populist appeal. And the same would have been true with any of the other Republican candidates. Like with Reagan, it would not be so hard to identify threats and develop narratives and strategies for countering them. Unlike Reagan, these are people who personally inspire little more than a sense that they could make for good walking dead characters in a zombie movie.
Trump, unfortunately, represents something that feels fresh, current, disruptive, and therefore, perversely appealing to many people. He plays by a set of rules that are in part tied to his (damaged, narcissistic) personality, and in part tied to strong cultural currents that underlie and are expressive of popular and national angst, including a pervasive sense of vulnerability. This derives partly from the economic dislocations that have been widely discussed in the wake of the election. But it is also rooted in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the “war on Terrorism” and how they have been cast and continue to be used by a variety of interests — political, commercial, military, and otherwise — to “sell” and profit from (in the broadest sense) fear and vulnerability.
I think our biggest long-term challenge as Democrats is to find ways to address this underlying sense of vulnerability and all of the ways in which it constricts the quest for a more progressive future. But more immediately, we need to protect the progress we have achieved. And this means engaging in tough nuts and bolts politics. The politics of morally-driven, outraged resistance. The politics of reaching out to the disaffected and most vulnerable, and coalition-building.
The one big opportunity presented in the current situation is that Trump and the McConnell/Ryan/Pence axis are not well aligned. Trump is a contemporary American cultural icon. He represents populist discontent and mobilization. McConnell is a reactionary cultural throwback. He represents the discontent of the walking dead. There are a lot of potential opportunities in the struggle to channel populist angst. And there are a lot of potential allies and tools in the fight against giving new life to old battles and deadly, morbid inequities.