Editor’s Note: We may have won the skirmish in 2016, but, as the Capitol insurgency showed, the enemies of democracy aka Republicans, conservatives, Christian Taliban, white supremacists, fascists, Klansmen, Proud Boys and the others members of the Trump cult haven’t given up on the battle to take back power by any means necessary, legal or illegal.

Picking Our Battles

As a candidate, Donald Trump made lots of promises. Those who never voted for him never trusted him, but his true believers accepted every word, mindlessly chanting a mantra that was bizarre under the circumstances: “Promises made. Promises kept.” The truth is a rare commodity in politics, but the Trump campaign rendered it irrelevant.

The Donald vowed to lower drug prices, replace Obamacare with “something great” and pass an infrastructure bill: Promises never even attempted. Instead, he cut taxes for his fellow millionaires and placated his party by packing an increasingly Republican judiciary with activist right-wing judges. Despite his obsession with dominating Washington, Trump seemed to view his duties as annoying impingements on his golfing and tweeting. And his disdain for the mechanics of governance and ambivalence toward COVID-related science made his administration complicit in our shameful death toll.

Pre-MAGA ex-Republican Rick Wilson, a co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, characterized the goal of his former party as having “people scream at them.” Old-school conservatives who “live in reality,” such as Liz Cheney and George Will, have lost all influence with those whose guiding principle is “The Big Lie” that Democrats and the Deep State have stolen Trump’s presidency. Libertarian talk show host, Bill Maher, summed it up best: “One party is a policy party. The other is a party of trolls.”

Trump cultists claim to revere the 45th president’s policies, but did he really have policies? Or did he merely despise the same groups they do: Mexicans, LGBTQ, minorities, the poor, immigrants? Throughout his term, it seemed he might, at some point, cross a line that even his most rabid followers couldn’t abide. However, even the treason of inciting an insurrection has now become acceptable, with GOP leaders mocking both democracy and the Constitution by refusing to investigate the violent traitors, white supremacists and terrorists they’ve decided to call “tourists.”

In upcoming elections, it will be difficult for Republicans to campaign on specific policies or achievements, so they’re sure to use the cultural issues — fear and loathing of socialism, reproductive rights, gun control, gay rights and feminism — as bludgeons against liberals. Restricting access to voting and other civil rights will be mechanisms for their ultimate goal of throwing democracy out with Democrats. The hope that moderates can preserve our traditional form of government will require that we deny the trolls opportunities to use the social issues against us.

No matter what progressives and moderates do, the Trump cultists will lie about it; however, it makes no sense to cooperate by appearing foolish. One trap we fall into is what’s being called “cancel culture” — a form of political correctness in which “woke” liberals, who see themselves as the arbiters of purity, attack fellow progressives, moderates and even the Founding Fathers for falling short of perfection. This results in the removal of names as revered as Washington and Jefferson from high schools, and even Lincoln has been chastised for failing to live up to 21st century PC standards. In the battle to save American democracy from Trumpism, these are not the hills we should be dying on.

This is not to say liberals should give up their values. Rather, we need to pick our battles, to avoid petty internecine squabbles. For example, the Warner Theater in Torrington, CT, recently canceled the one-person play, “I Am My Own Wife,” due to outcry from the transgender community at the casting of a cisgender actor (i.e., one whose gender identity matches his/her biological gender). Trans people represent 0.6% of the population, so the number of transgender actors to choose from is vanishingly small, and the failure to cast one seems trivial.

It’s similar to the sin of “cultural appropriation,” which has included hiring Caucasian actors to play nonwhite roles. For example, the decision to cast Lawrence Olivier as Othello in blackface is often cited as a travesty. However, it’s hard to criticize casting the world’s greatest Shakespearian actor to play such a classic role. (Carried to its logical extreme, a black actress couldn’t be hired to play Lady Macbeth, and, if they filmed my life, only overweight Greek-Irish guys could audition.)

Less facetious, but more ominous is the cancel culture that ends careers and ruins reputations for the minor sorts of sexual hijinks that forced Al Franken to resign his Senate seat. It seems even more silly when you realize Matt Gaetz is still in the House, and Trump served a full term. These days, we could use more senators like Al Franken.  

The cliché that there’s no difference between the extreme ends of the political spectrum ignores a major distinction between the woke liberal minority and the swelling ranks of Trumpist fanatics: The former have good hearts and mean well, while the latter barely have hearts at all. As the Capitol insurrection shows, the Right holds itself to lower standards than liberals do, making it easy for them never to lose faith in their orange messiah and to retain power, despite the country’s changing demographics.

Progressives can expect the Right to lie about them. However, we’re better off making them fabricate nonsense than handing them trivial, but factual, topics with which to hit us over the head. After years of Trump, they have little to campaign on; it’s important we limit the number of petty nonissues they can campaign against.

Sociopathic Trump sheep are willing to accept almost any lie, but the still large, albeit shrinking, middle of the electorate may not be so easily fooled. And this is the group that must be appealed to if we hope to continue past 2024 on the path back from the racist, fascist cult of a malignant narcissist and his bigoted culture of right-wing lapdogs.

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