As I mentioned last post, there are indeed Democrats in Massachusetts’ congressional delegation who have shown signs of a shop-worn, dessicated political temperament: inertia; sloth; special interest capture; legal-but-seedy corruption; nostalgia for bygone “better times” of bipartisanship and comity; and outright cowardly defeatism. To paraphrase our good senior Senator:
I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of [being in Congress] just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.
To be specific: I mean our own Massachusetts US Reps. Richard Neal (MA-1) and Stephen Lynch (MA-8). There are other reps that have exhibited some of these traits, but not with the vividness of a contrast-dye MRI like these two.
Let’s back up a bit: Political psychology is weird. By and large, people get frustrated at politicians not just when they have the wrong opinions or espouse bad policy, but when they’re worthless. The thing-we-must-do is often malleable in the public’s mind; but you have to deliver on that thing. This is the political genius of Mitch McConnell, who made it his job to fight Democratic proposals on everything, including popular things. His long-term play has been not to realize popular, beneficial results for his constituents; but rather to stuff the Democrats, making them ineffectual — with the Dems own cooperation, of course — and creating frustration, so that he can then enact unpopular policies that help very few.
Which Democrats know that this is the game — and call it out? Which Democrats cave in — giving in their assent, negotiating with themselves even before the game begins? Who has been so ineffectual in countering the rampant corruption of Trump, that they’ve basically given up?
1. Do not obey in advance. Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.
This goes for public negotiation and positioning as well. Watch Lynch’s response to the impeachment question at a town hall — answer starts around 4:30:
Steve Lynch can state his case as emphatically as he wants; but his strategy is one of passivity and indulgence — of giving away his own agency. He advocates lying down for Trump by forswearing impeachment out of fear that it will “energize Trump’s base”. Obeying in advance, Lynch thereby gives Trump’s base veto power over his own actions — even as Lynch abandons his own base. This is not hard to figure out, if you’re not obsessed with playing 13-dimensional political chess, as so many Dems imagine themselves to be doing. Trust your own eyes, and your own logic: If Trump has committed impeachable offenses, then he should be impeached. To quote Charlie Pierce in another context, “All else is smoke.” And then if they vote to acquit, make Senate Republicans own that corruption. Play offense. Do your job.
Neal, we’ve talked about before. The new news is that he may not even get Trump’s tax returns before the end of 2020 — at least partly because he won’t ask for his New York returns, which New York has stood ready to give him. Note how powerless a “powerful” Ways and Means chair can be.
How to go about getting Trump’s tax returns — and whether House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA), who is leading such efforts, is doing enough — has been a matter of debate on the left for months. It is emblematic of a growing feeling among some progressives that Democrats have been too hesitant to take Trump to task since taking back the House in the 2018 midterm elections. The White House’s resistance efforts have worked better than expected, and the Democrats’ strategy has not.
Trump’s tax returns have been treated as a Holy Grail that would unlock the secrets of his wealth and, depending on where you fall on the political spectrum, potentially reveal him as a fraud or as having unsavory ties to foreign interests. If that were the case, it could be an important weapon again him in his reelection campaign — but it looks like Democrats aren’t going to have it.
Whether this is timidity, or incompetence, or both, it represents an abject institutional failure in the face of unprecedented abuse of trust. The President’s finances are indeed the linchpin of his myriad conflicts of interest — some of which are blatant, like Mar-a-Lago, and some of which have been more circumstantial but, uh, highly suggestive of the most fundamental corruption. Whom is this guy working for? Is he treating the Presidency as an actual money-making hustle? Is he an actual traitor? These are not idle questions — in fact, some of them are quite blatantly true. And the guy standing guard — our guy from Springfield — has figured out a way not to find out the answers. Stop! … or I’ll say stop again!
This is how bad guys win. They figure out a way to push the system so hard that it breaks; and the institutional defenders are themselves too timid or conflicted themselves to hold them accountable, because they’re just not that used to being uncomfortable. Gosh well we tried.
We need to revivify our Congressional delegation, right here in Massachusetts. There is work to be done in the primaries. This is the whole game of democracy right in front of us, and Neal and Lynch are failing the moment. They have to go.