There’s an old myth about the cognitive abilities of the goldfish: that they can only remember three seconds at a time.
It’s not true—goldfish are exceptionally intelligent little fish. But the goldfish myth is a good way to explain the Democratic Party in 2016.
Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. His campaign for the office was brutal, ugly, and vile. He fed the fires of hate and bigotry at every rally, speech, debate, and media interview he attended. His presidential possibilities are hard to predict. If we use his statements as indicators of his future plans, the next four years look bleak. Even if he is constrained and made impotent by the institutional realities of the office and the federal government, his white nationalist base is lethal and emboldened.
In the run-up to Election Day, the Democratic Party’s leadership made the argument that Trump was singularly unfit for the office. President Obama said Trump was a man who “doesn’t have the judgment, the temperament, the understanding, to occupy the most powerful position in the world.” Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton called him “temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be commander in chief.” Campaign trail attack dog Elizabeth Warren called Trump, among other things, “a small, insecure money-grubber who doesn’t care about anyone or anything that doesn’t have the Trump name splashed all over it. Every day it becomes clearer that he is a thin-skinned, racist, sexist bully.” And Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, said Trump’s lewd comments about women captured on tape in 2005 were unacceptable: “You can’t forget about what he said about women, the degrading, really vile statements about women.”
But five seconds later, after Trump became the next president, these arguments were forgotten. They never existed. Now, the man who was singularly unfit for office, unqualified, racist, sexist, and an existential threat to democracy became a statesman and someone whom the “loyal opposition” could work with. What happened?
Trump’s policy plans include unilaterally withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords— an action that will result in catastrophic climate change. But President Obama told Trump on Thursday that “We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed because if you succeed the country succeeds.”
On multiple occasions, and in his official plan for his first 100 days, Trump has promised mass deportations, a wall on the southern border, and to turn away refugees from war torn regions of the world where the population is majority-Muslim. Yet Clinton, in her concession speech on Wednesday, said that “we owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”
Trump plans to cut taxes on the wealthy to such an extent that it would add trillions of dollars to the deficit, and, according to some economists, lead to a worldwide recession. Now, Elizabeth Warren says he “promised to rebuild our economy for working people, and I offer to put aside our differences and work with him.”
Only a year ago, Trump signalled he was in favor of a registry for Muslim-Americans. Late last week, Andrew Cuomo said, “I think Donald Trump being from New York is a bonus not just for this state, but for other states also.”
Do they not remember what they said before the election? Are they incapable of understanding Trump’s behavior and statements over the past eighteen months? And it’s not only the party’s DC power brokers who have no memory and no adherence to any principles other than power.. It’s their toadies in the media and the entire party establishment.
As an example of the first; Nicholas Kristof, the earnest liberal columnist for The New York Times, wrote an article Wednesday night entitled “Gritting Our Teeth and Giving President Trump a Chance.”
Kristof—who has jerked many a tear off the face of a liberal reader with his stories of women’s struggles across the world—tells readers that maybe Trump will reverse course now that his hateful rhetoric has made him the most powerful person in the world:
Trump has surprised us in many ways this year, and let’s hope and pray that he will stun us once again by repairing the tears he made in our social fabric. Let’s give him a chance — for those are our democratic values.
It’s not just Kristof. Rachel Maddow and Paul Krugman have blamed the anemic Green Party campaign of Jill Stein for Clinton’s loss, ignoring the easily verifiable concepts of addition and subtraction that prove Stein’s absence from the race would not have delivered the race to Clinton. Amanda Marcotte at Salon argues that the only reason white women voted for Trump was their self-hatred and fear of men, ignoring the long and storied tradition of white feminist racism and the realities of white backlash to a changing world.
And those whose careers are built not on pontificating and prognosticating but deal-making and politicking are no better. Look no further than this Politico article detailing how the Clinton campaign refuses to accept any responsibility for the loss.
The article details how Clinton’s team ignored every single suggestion they should broaden her appeal to working class white voters; how they rejected appeals to address her email scandal; and how now, as the country sits in the rubble they created, they are blaming the media, the FBI, the left—anything but themselves.
The Democratic Party as it has existed for the past 24 years is over. The echo chamber of Clintonism and the Obama coalition argues about who to blame for its failures without ever looking within. Even when faced with a national, existential threat like a Trump presidency, the party is incapable of thinking about or learning from the wholesale rejection of their warmed over Republican policies and inability to stand for anything.
The Democratic Party is the goldfish. Incapable of considering anything other than their own institutional short term survival, completely devoid of any principle other than their immediate gratification, and unable to remember their actions on a second-to-second basis. The longer we, the American people, allow this farce of a political party to be a part of defining our future, the longer we will be waiting for substantive change—the kind that won’t be cast aside in a heartbeat because of the changing winds of political fortune.