President Trump at a rally with supporters in Erie, Pa., on Wednesday night. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

When tea party activists challenged Democratic lawmakers at town hall meetings in 2009 and 2010, Republicans never characterized rowdy activists as a “mob.” It was the finest example of active citizenship, they assured us. When Republicans held years of hearings on the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, they told us it was rigorous oversight, not mindless opposition. Actually, when it comes to violence, Donald Trump infamously goaded his campaign crowds (“I’d like to punch him in the face!“) and induced his supporters to jeer at the press and to chant “Lock her up!” This is the president who said there were “fine people” among the Neo-Nazi marchers in 2017 in Charlottesville, whose actions resulted in the death of a young woman.

Now that Republicans have shoved through an unpopular Supreme Court justice and face a midterm thrashing, they’ve taken to calling Democratic protesters — even female survivors of sex crimes — a “mob.” Republicans claim they have been “assaulted” by peaceful protesters. The GOP, which has turned its message into an ongoing screed of resentment and animosity toward fellow Americans, now recoils because Democrats are “angry.”

Republicans also try to incite fear in moderate voters by insisting that Democrats are ready to impeach both Trump and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. Chaos! Investigations! 

Republicans surely are panicked, and have figured out that they are losing female voters, as well as suburban voters in general. Better scare these voters (the people who play by the rules, frown on lawbreaking) with images of a violent mob and fears of government chaos. Yes, it is rich that Republicans who have practiced the politics of nihilism, attacked every democratic norm, defended every presidential outburst, refused to conduct oversight, run up the debt and watched a parade of presidential cronies either be convicted or plead guilty now warn things will get out of hand if those Democrats get control of even one house of Congress. It’s a little late for Republicans to present themselves as the grown-ups and the Democrats as anarchists.

There are several points worth noting:

First, grass-roots enthusiasm has been on the Democrats’ side since the day after Trump’s inauguration, when hundreds of thousands of women across the country took to the streets in peaceful demonstration. That enthusiasm gap continues to the present when, despite Republicans’ claim that Kavanaugh would ignite their base, Democrats evidence far more excitement about the midterms. Yes, that excitement is manifested in protests, furious speeches and all manner of small-d democratic activism in the finest tradition of our country. Like authoritarian regimes around the world, the Trumpists want that all to stop, so they play the law-and-order card, even when their opponents are peaceful and Republicans are the ones making mincemeat of the Constitution. In short, Republicans are playing a weak hand, trying to convince voters that enthusiasm expressed by Democrats is dangerous.

Second, Democrats — until the Kavanaugh nomination — did a fairly good job of arguing that talk of impeaching Trump was entirely premature given the special prosecutor has not yet completed his work. At best, the facts (about possible cooperation with Russian election interference, or to alleged obstruction of justice) are incomplete. It is a constitutionally responsible and politically smart tactic, and Republicans (maybe because the evidence of presidential wrongdoing is accumulating) don’t spend much time trying to convince voters that Democrats want to overturn the “will of the people.” (Besides, Trump is quite unpopular, so it is bad form to bring up popular will.) However, Republicans have now taken to suggesting, not entirely without justification, that Democrats want to impeach Kavanaugh.

On this, impeachment of Kavanaugh, there is a world of difference between suggesting there might be grounds for impeachment if evidence of perjury (exceptionally hard to prove) or misconduct were discovered, and setting out to spend months on a fruitless effort absent any factual basis. (Ousting Kavanaugh also won’t happen because of the two-thirds majority requirement for the Senate to remove a Supreme Court justice.) Here, Democrats would do well to explain what they are going to do and why. And that brings us to the next point: The duty of oversight.

The third and most important takeaway from the latest round of Republican scaremongering is the necessity for Democrats to do a much better job explaining how Republicans have utterly failed in their oversight obligations. Republicans have not addressed possibly unconstitutional emoluments, conflicts of interest, improper White House interference with the Justice Department, endemic corruption throughout the executive branch and suppression of government data the administration doesn’t like — to name just a few items. Instead, Republicans, either by omission or commission, have enabled the executive branch to run amok.

Republicans haven’t even policed themselves, not bothering to enact a sexual harassment reform policy or tossing out two GOP congressmen — one facing corruption accusations and the other facing insider-trading charges. In other words, we’ve become so accustomed to not knowing what’s going on in the administration that the mere notion Congress should engage in fact-finding, hold officials responsible and enact new laws to protect taxpayers sounds altogether revolutionary. It would actually be a return to normal, to the checks and balances envisioned by the Founders.

Before we talk about impeaching anyone, Congress — to quote the president — has to find out what’s going on. The question is not whether Democrats are going to start impeachment proceedings (especially with no chance of Senate removal), it is why for two years the Republican-controlled Congress hasn’t done its job and has allowed Trump to run amok. The idea of transparency (disclosing senior officials’ tax returns, for example) may seem scary to Republicans, but it should be reassuring to voters to know that one party has an interest in ending the cornucopia of corruption, rotten and cruel policy choices (e.g., zero tolerance) and the assault against democratic norms. As for Kavanaugh, the larger immediate concern is the degree to which the FBI helped the newest justice hopscotch around problem areas during his confirmation. It is the administration’s lack of transparency that is the most urgent concern; the vetting process is opaque and is in bad need of reform.

In sum, unlike Trump, Democratic leadership isn’t suggesting protesters hit anyone, nor are they praising hooliganism. They are welcoming free expression, the essence of a democracy. Rather than chaos — as we have experienced for nearly two years — Democrats are promising to act like responsible members of an equal branch. (What a concept!) The intention to take the reins back from an intellectually corrupt, mean-spirited and slothful GOP majority is a noble one. Voters should throw the Republicans out — and then hold Democrats to their promise.

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