Since Jan. 20, 2017, it’s been hard not to believe we are living our last days. It’s almost as though George Orwell is playing a sick joke on us, and his book, 1984, is coming to life as the United States appears to be under a totalitarian regime.
Reality television star-turned politician Donald Trump, as an evil dictator, has taken us on quite the ride in just two short weeks, and Democrats, particularly members of Congress, are panicking with half-hearted attempts at responding to his every move, with no real strategy other than “it’s all on fire, now react!”
As Democrats, we find ourselves in a precarious position of responding — and to a lot. President Trump has so far issued many arguably unconstitutional executive orders. From the Mexico City Policy (otherwise known as the “Global Gag Rule”), which will hurt women throughout the world who need access to reproductive health services, to the immigration ban that bars citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., to a reduction/freeze of federal workers, it’s clear that a Trump administration means a threat for communities living outside of the margins. There is also a rumored order that “[w]ould create wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity.”
Trump and his cronies are surely attempting to put marginalized communities back in our place by issuing orders as fast as he can say, “You’re fired!”
It’s also no help when these orders are being drafted by Trump’s chief strategist, Neo-Nazi, white supremacist Steve Bannon and discussed by a grossly incompetent White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, and “alternative facts” herself, Kellyanne Conway.
And yet we continue to resist in the most beautiful way possible. Think about it: the next day after the presidential inauguration, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country came to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Women’s March on Washington to push back on the extreme rhetoric of Trump’s administration.
So, what’s next?
For community activists and organizers, the answer is clear: fight back in ways that will help the most marginalized. But for Democratic members of Congress, that fight looks a bit different.
Things came to a head on Tuesday when President Trump announced his nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, to replace deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — a seat that hasn’t been filled since Feb. 13, 2016, nearly a year ago. Judge Gorsuch is the youngest nominee to the Supreme Court in 25 years, which means he can shape major decisions for years to come. He is a federal appellate judge in Colorado, and he’s also generally terrible, despite his likability.
Judge Gorsuch wants to give unelected judges more power to strike down federal regulations — regulations that could help consumers. Gorsuch has repeatedly sided with big business (think: Citizens United). He has ruled against women’s access to contraception (think Hobby Lobby) believing that mandatory contraception violated the religious liberties of companies. In fact, Gorsuch has an overarching commitment to religious freedom, which we know can give a license to discriminate against the most vulnerable.
Considering this, there were immediate — and rightful — calls from progressives all over demanding Democratic members of Congress filibuster Gorsuch as a nominee. While it may seem like the most logical move to play, Democrats must answer a few questions first, like: What exactly do we want? Who do we want? And what are our long-term goals?
I’m not saying whether or not progressives should block President Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court. As Democrats, we need to block and resist whoever would denigrate progressive values, but we also need to be strategic about it when we do. We know that a nominee like Gorsuch would ultimately be picked to replace Justice Scalia, a disgustingly staunch conservative, so it makes me wonder who we thought would be selected in his place?
It’s not like Trump, the leader of the Republican Party, was ever going to choose a progressive nominee. And with the current makeup of the court and how cases are being litigated in multiple circuits, it may also be dangerous to have an even split on the bench.
If Gorsuch was nominated to replace — say, for example — Justices Ginsburg or Sotomayor, an intense fight would be understandable. But now it just seems a little “let’s do everything Republicans did to us.” And that isn’t too strategic. It may feel good, but it makes Democrats look bitter, and that’s how we continuously lose elections and important political battles on Capitol Hill. Contrary to popular belief, there is some middle ground between our oftentimes weak compromising and “burn everything” approach to opposition.
Responding to everything is how we will exhaust ourselves before the 2018 primary elections roll around. Taking no prisoners as it relates to Republicans only has a real meaning if long-term implications are considered. Quick wins, without sustainability, aren’t wins at all.
One thing has become abundantly clear, however: we can’t fight everything without an effective strategy. Thus far, the only tactic we’ve seen from Democrats is to be as petty as the Republicans were during the eight years of former President Barack Obama’s administration. Though my intellectually petty heart smiles at the sight of Democratic leaders giving it to Trump and his administration, it also doesn’t escape me that setting everything on fire may help no one, and certainly not those who will feel the worse brunt of this political tit-for-tat. If this strategy continues, we may find ourselves as shocked as we were on Nov. 8, 2016.
So long as Democrats find themselves merely mimicking the Republican Party, we’ll find ourselves in a losing position — and that affects black people, poor people, women seeking healthcare services, LGBTQ citizens, and immigrants more than other populations. In mimicry, we miss the fact that something is internally wrong with our own party. On the contrary, we blame only one group of people, without acknowledging that we played a role to these some of the issues we face today.
But make no mistake: if things were to blow up in Democrats’ face, it would mostly be a blow to Democratic voters and not the officials they elected.
We are, no doubt, fired up and ready to go. But part of being ready to go means conducting an intense triage that involves figuring out what is priority and what isn’t. After all, if 100 houses are all on fire, how could we ever figure out its origin if we’re so hyper focused on fighting them all?
Former First Lady Michelle Obama famously said, “When they go low, we go high,” but respectfully, I have to disagree. Sometimes, when people go low politically, it’s important to also respond accordingly — sometimes even lower. But, if ‘low’ is the standard for every knee-jerk reaction, then surely we will find ourselves yet again in the loser’s club.
Yes, Democrats, take no prisoners. But let’s also be smart about it.
Preston Mitchum is a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He is a regular contributor with The Root and theGrio and has written for the Atlantic, OUT Magazine, Ebony.com, Huffington Post, Hello Beautiful, and Think Progress. Follow him on Twitter here to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.