This represents a small challenge to Trump’s corruption and lies — to his corruption of our institutions and political system with autocratic and authoritarian conduct, and to the deep rot of bad faith at the core of his willingness to declare a national emergency to build his wall based on false pretenses and invented metrics.
The move probably won’t succeed in terminating the emergency. But it points to something we need to see a lot more of: discussion of concrete proposals and actions designed to fortify our institutions and democracy against Trump’s ongoing degradations of them, and to restore confidence in them once Trump is gone.
This is something we’re starting to see from the Democratic presidential hopefuls. But we need more, and I expect we will get it.
Here’s a case in point. In response to questions from reporters at the Daily Beast, all of the major Democratic campaigns have now pledged to refrain from using materials illicitly hacked and posted online, as happened in 2016. Not surprisingly, the Trump campaign is refusing to agree to this. That’s driving online discussion, but the more important development here is that Democrats have all agreed to it.
This hints at something bigger Democrats can do. As my Post colleague Josh Rogin reports, amid signs that Russia is gearing up for another sabotage effort, Joe Biden is calling on the candidates and the Democratic National Committee and state parties to join in affirmatively signing a wide-ranging pledge not to aid and abet any such efforts.
The driving idea here: It must become a party-wide position to recognize the urgency of the threat that disinformation poses to our democracy, but also to liberal democracy writ large. To grasp this challenge, note that recent Senate Intelligence Committee reports detailed not just the astonishing reach of the 2016 Russian disinformation effort, but crucially, also its goal of dividing the country along cultural, racial and ethnic lines.
Trump has both exploited and exacerbated these trends. As I detail in my new book, he has eagerly reaped the political benefits of outside disinformation warfare and has himself engaged in a form of nonstop lying that must also be understood as disinformation, much of it aimed at demonizing minorities, and thus at similarly dividing the country.
All this, along with Trump’s contempt for the media’s institutional role, has posed new challenges to our political and civic culture. Forthright acknowledgment of the scale of these challenges as party ethos becomes a key way that Democrats can stand for the fortification of our system against Trump’s eager participation in corrupting it and the broader trends that embodies.
Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, a leading advocate for this approach, argues to me that the 2020 Democrats should join in a pledge condemning all tactics of disinformation warfare, such as “fake accounts, trolls, hacking and the use of hacked materials.” He adds that this can be part of a broader project of making “the repair of our democracy central to the conversation they are going to have with the American people.”
Democrats have started that conversation
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) showed what this conversation might look like with a new op-ed calling on Republicans to recognize the threat to our democratic institutions and values Trump poses. How they will vote on the resolution terminating Trump’s national emergency is a good test.
Meanwhile, as Jamelle Bouie points out, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has begun a discussion of the ways in which authoritarianism, plutocracy and illiberal populism — all features of Trumpism here at home — intersect to constitute the defining challenge of the moment to egalitarian liberal democracy in the domestic and international contexts.
Here’s another good example: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently called on her fellow presidential hopefuls to join in posting all their tax returns online. This is, of course, meant to highlight that Democrats will show transparency and Trump won’t. But it’s about more: Trump’s refusal to release his returns goes to the core of his corruption of our democracy with untold self-dealing. Democrats can stand for restoring public faith eroded by that corruption.
This is why the new reform package from House Democrats includes a provision requiring future candidates to release their returns. It’s also why they cannot dither any longer about seeking access to Trump’s, if they are to be the party combating his degradations.
Democrats can go bigger
There are other ways Democrats can do more in this regard. They can start proposing ways of tightening up the discretion afforded to presidents to declare national emergencies, in response to Trump’s abuse of it.
Relatedly, Democrats can engage in a broader discussion of the ways in which Trump reflects the decades-long trend of Congress acquiescing in the agglomeration of power by the “imperial presidency.” This would entail frankly acknowledging President Barack Obama’s own role in that, through things such as lack of transparency about drone strikes and the naked abuse of war powers without congressional authorization. Come to think of it, all the 2020 Democrats should consider pledging to avoid the latter.
One model for all of this might be the post-Watergate period. As historians Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer detail in their new book, “Fault Lines,” the era’s major reforms were very much conceived as a way to restore faith in our institutions and political system in the wake of President Richard M. Nixon’s degradation of them, which caused a “crisis of legitimacy.”
Nixon, of course, had already resigned, while Trump doesn’t appear to be going anywhere and may win reelection. But the 2020 Democrats might consider ways of treating this as a similarly momentous and challenging moment.