Dems, Stop Taking the Bait — You Won’t Beat Trump at His Own Game

via The Hill

President Trump’s response to the Charlottesville riots over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue displayed his patented technique.

First, do something contemptible such as equating the neo-Nazis and KKK demonstrators with those who opposed them (“there are two sides to the story”).

Next, create a distraction by chumming the political waters to make the Democrats crazy, in this case, by defending Confederate monuments (“George Washington was a slave owner . . . Are we going take down statues to George Washington?”).

Finally, as he did in his Arizona speech on August 22, deny doing the outrageous act that everyone saw you do (“I spoke out forcefully against hatred’) and blame the country’s divisions on the “crooked” news media.

The Democrats obligingly gave Trump a distraction. George Washington created the United States while Robert E. Lee tried to rip it apart. Nonetheless, Angela Rye, the former executive director of the mostly Democratic Congressional Black Caucus, insisted on CNN that statues of Washington and Jefferson should be torn down because they were slave owners. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi demanded the removal of the Confederate statues in the Capitol.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed a commission to identify and remove “hateful” monuments on city property. He initially suggested that even the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Square was potentially on the marble chopping block.

It takes a special kind of political obtuseness to fall for Trump’s bait. Most historians agree that the Confederate monuments were intended to symbolize white supremacy. But one recent survey found that Americans, by more than 2 to 1, believe that these monuments reflect Southern pride and not racism. Indeed a plurality of the American public, 48 percent, opposed the removal of the Robert E. Lee statute in Charlottesville.

Remarkably, another survey found that blacks, by 44 to 40 percent,oppose the removal of Confederate monuments. Especially in light of those polls, a disciplined political party would have refused to give Trump the diversion he so desperately needed as much of the country recoiled in disgust over his defense of neo-Nazis and the KKK. 

Democrats could have learned from the University of Mississippi, whose campus has a Confederate statute. In 2016, the university replaced an existing plaque on the statue with this:

“Although the monument was created to honor the sacrifice of local confederate soldiers, it must also remind us that the defeat of the confederacy actually meant freedom for millions of people. On the evening of September 30, 1962, this statue was a rallying point for opponents of integration. This historic statue is a reminder of the university’s divisive past.”

Trump cynically used Charlottesville to further divide the country for political advantage, which he defines as keeping his base happy whatever the cost to governance, morality and decency.

The Democrats had a golden opportunity to emphasize both history and the need for national healing by, for example, proposing to turn Confederate monuments into a lesson about America’s original sin of slavery, the way the University of Mississippi did.

Instead, politicians like Nancy Pelosi saw an opportunity to fire up the Democratic base (memo to Pelosi: if Trump’s grotesqueries haven’t fired up your base by now, nothing will). Democrats walked right into the Steve Bannon trap: “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got 'em.”

The movie “Lincoln” contains a wonderful tutorial on political pragmatism. In one scene, President Lincoln, seeking support for an amendment to abolish slavery, explains to radical Republican Rep. Thaddeus Stevens that his advocacy of racial equality, while morally admirable, was making it harder to broaden support in the House of Representatives for the amendment.

Lincoln explains that a compass can point to true north but can’t identify the swamps and chasms on the way. “If in pursuit of your destination you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp, what's the use of knowing true north?" 

The Democrats may know where true north lies, but they don’t yet know how to get themselves (or the country) out of the swamp.