Teeing Off on Trump
When voters have to choose between left and right incivility, Democrats will lose.
By Daniel Henninger
Why blame Maxine Waters ?
The combustible, tenured congresswoman from California is being run through the tut-tut wringer for calling down her version of jihad on an elected president.
“If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station,” Rep. Waters said in her normal habit of discourse—a shout—“you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them.”
This isn’t an original thought. Ever since the election returns unexpectedly said Donald Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton, the left hasn’t needed marching orders from Maxine Waters. The American left is always cocked, locked and ready to go into the streets, shout someone down, confront, harass and punish.
A week after the election, thousands of anti-Trump activists, some carrying pictures of Donald Trump and Hitler, shut down highways and blocked commuters going home during rush hour around New York and other cities. On Inauguration Day, they fought cops in the streets of Washington.
The Trump decision to separate migrant children from their parents flipped a familiar switch. Activists from the Democratic Socialists of America burst into a crowded D.C. restaurant to scream at Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen,while the owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Virginia sanctimoniously kicked out Sarah Sanders and her family.
The media is calling this “the civility feud,” though the word “civility” looks quaint and innocent among this crowd.
The political question of the moment is about something more: Can the Democratic Party control its left?
History suggests that centrist and independent American voters become uncomfortable when the news is dominated, as increasingly it is now, by the left pushing politics by other means. Voters in the past have turned rightward for solutions.
Richard Nixon in part rode the “law and order” issue into the White House during a publicly disordered time. Ronald Reagan ran on order, too.
Eventually, Democrats saw they would continue to lose elections if they nominated left-wing presidential candidates like George McGovern or Walter Mondale, and so they turned to centrist Southern governors such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
For today’s Democrats, the centrist Southern governor option is gone. As of this week, President Trump’s opponent in 2020 will be a man or woman of the Democratic left.
Bernie Sanders lost the 2016 nomination to Mrs. Clinton, but he won the party. Supporting Sen. Sanders’s Medicare-for-all option is now mandatory writ for the party’s 2020 contenders. If anyone, say Joe Biden, had a doubt about where the party has landed, that ended with Tuesday’s primaries. The most famous Democrat in the U.S. right now is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old member of the Democratic Socialists of America from Queens, N.Y.
Her primary opponent, Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, was considered unbeatable. Yet atop a wave of social-media progressivism, she sent Mr. Crowley into retirement. The national Democratic template is set: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is it.
The X-factor for the Democratic path back to national power is Donald Trump. The always-whirling Mr. Trump is capable of spinning himself off his gyroscope. What he has going for himself is that his opponents are crazed. Mr. Trump knows this, because he keeps feeding their mania.
The Trump opposition justifies what it says and does—such as equating the border actions with Auschwitz—as a moral imperative. The restaurant owner who drove out Sarah Sanders announced: “This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”
Psychologists will study for years how a candidate and now president whose substantive threat to “our democracy” consists mainly of unprecedented boorishness drove normally temperate people into a frenzy.
Classical conservatives, including the Founders, have warned that a society too far gone on political obsessions and animosities would put its ability to function at risk. We’re just about there, unable or not even willing to let political normality exist.
When the right tips over, it mostly gets grouchy, spending its energies defining people out of conservatism. The problem for the Democratic Party is that its left wing’s frenzies can turn ugly. If politics doesn’t go their way, they go into the streets, or invade a restaurant to shriek at a cabinet secretary.
Over the past week or so, two activist groups in Oregon—Occupy ICE PDX and Direct Action Alliance —have shut down the federal immigration-service building in Portland. “If they arrest us on federal property,” said one organizer, “we’ll shut the roads down. You can’t stop us.”
Our politics are putting a lot of pressure on voters, who are expected to sort it all out. When they enter the voting booth—this November and in two years—the choice will be more complicated than picking between a president who tweets insults and tens of thousands of left-wing Democrats promising “we’ll shut the roads down.” But if the choice is between two brands of incivility, the Democratic version generally loses.