With the primary season winding down and the midterms soon upon us, it’s time to point out that this election is not about what you may think it’s about. It is not a choice between the particular basket of policies offered by the candidates for House or Senate in your district or state — policies like gun control, right to choose, free trade or fiscal discipline. No, what this election is about is your first chance since 2016 to vote against Donald Trump.
As far as I am concerned, that’s the only choice on the ballot. It’s a choice between letting Trump retain control of all the key levers of political power for two more years, or not.
If I were writing the choice on a ballot, it would read: “Are you in favor of electing a majority of Democrats in the House and/or Senate to put a check on Trump’s power — when his own party demonstrably will not? Or are you in favor of shaking the dice for another two years of unfettered control of the House, the Senate and the White House by a man who wants to ignore Russia’s interference in our election; a man whose first thought every morning is, ‘What’s good for me, and can I get away with it?’; a man who shows no compunction about smearing any person or government institution that stands in his way; and a man who is backed by a party where the only members who’ll call him out are those retiring or dying?”
If your answer is the former, then it can only happen by voting for the Democrat in your local House or Senate race.
Because what we’ve learned since 2016 is that the worst Democrat on the ballot for the House or Senate is preferable to the best Republican, because the best Republicans have consistently refused to take a moral stand against Trump’s undermining of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Civil Service, the basic norms of our public life and the integrity of our elections.
These Republicans have made the craven choice to stand with Trump as long as he delivers the policies they like on tax cuts, gun control, fossil fuels, abortion and immigration, even though many privately detest him.
It is up to the Democrats to say and do the opposite: To understand that as long as Trump is president, he’s unlikely to sign any legislation a Democratic majority in Congress would pass — but that’s not their job for the next two years. Their job is to protect America from Trump’s worst impulses.
Their job is to get hold of at least one lever of power — the House or the Senate — in order to oust the most corrupt Republican lawmakers who lead key committees, to properly oversee the most reckless cabinet secretaries, like Scott Pruitt, and to protect the F.B.I., the Justice Department and Robert Mueller from Trump’s intimidation.
I don’t write this easily. On many non-social, non-environmental issues, I’m not a card-carrying Democrat. I favor free trade, fiscal discipline, pro-business regulations, a democracy-expanding foreign policy, and I have an aversion to identity politics.
But all of that is on hold for me now, because something more fundamental is at stake: It’s not what we do — it’s who we are, how we talk to one another, what we model to the world, how we respect our institutions and just how warped our society and government can get in only a few years from a president who lies every day, peddles conspiracy theories from the bully pulpit of the White House and dares to call our F.B.I. and Justice Department a “criminal deep state” for doing their job.
So that’s why I have only one thought for this election: Get power. Get a lever of power that can curb Trump. Run for the House or the Senate as a Democrat; register to vote as a Democrat; help someone else register to vote as a Democrat; send money to a Democrat; canvass for a Democrat; drive someone to the polls to vote for a Democrat.
Democrats are never going to win the news cycle from Trump. He’s an attention-grabbing genius. But they can, and must, out-organize him, out-run him, out-register him and out-vote him.
Nothing else matters now. Remember the single stupidest statement from pro-Trump commentators after the election? It was: “The media took Trump literally but not seriously. But his supporters took him seriously but not literally.”
Actually, some of us took him seriously and literally — our only mistake was not taking him literally enough. I assumed that a candidate who lied so casually and so often in the campaign would also do so as president; I just didn’t think he would literally utter 3,001 false or misleading claims in his first 466 days in office. I feared Trump would indeed, as he vowed, tear up the Iran nuclear deal, withdraw from the Paris climate accord and start a trade war with China; I just didn’t think he’d literally do them all at once with so little expert input.
I figured Trump would try to destroy Obamacare; I just didn’t think he’d literally do it without having a better alternative — any alternative — in place. I figured Trump would seek to tighten the border with Mexico; I just didn’t believe that he’d literally ask Congress for $18 billion to extend the border wall. I knew we needed to “drain the swamp” of Washington; I just didn’t think the drain would literally have to start in Trump’s White House and the offices of his cabinet secretaries.
Still, Democrats can’t count on winning by just showing up. They still have to connect with some centrist and conservative voters — and that means understanding that some things are true even if Trump believes them: We do have a trade issue with China that needs addressing; we cannot accept every immigrant, because so many people today want to escape the world of disorder into our world of order; people want a president who is going to grow the pie, not just redivide it; political correctness on some college campuses is out of control; people want to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country in an age where globalization can wash out those identities.
Democrats need to connect with some voters on those issues but then take them in a constructive direction, in contrast with Trump’s destructive direction.
In the end, I don’t want to see Trump impeached, unless there is overwhelming evidence. I want to see, and I want the world to see, a majority of Americans vote to curtail his power for the next two years — not to push a specific agenda over his but because they want to protect America, its ideals and institutions, from him — until our next presidential election gives us a chance to end this cancer and to birth a new G.O.P. that promotes the best instincts of conservatives, not the worst, so Americans can again have two decent choices.
Again, this is Code Red: American democracy is truly threatened today — by the man sitting in the Oval Office and the lawmakers giving him a free pass.