This may seem futile. After the El Paso mass murder, Trump called for “strong background checks,” but seemed to back off with head-snapping speed. By all appearances, all it took was one phone call from National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre to get Trump to rethink his momentary lapse.
And there hasn’t been any real reason to think Trump would defy his party on this matter, since in truth, he actually defies GOP orthodoxy far less often than is commonly thought, and only on issues that he really cares about, which are the ones that allow him to let his worst nationalist and authoritarian instincts run rampant.
But Murphy thinks this is still worth pushing for. Politico reports:
In their conversation on Aug. 11, Murphy said Trump “told me personally that he was indeed serious about moving forward together on what he called meaningful background checks legislation” and that he understood GOP senators would not back anything without Trump’s explicit support. ...
Murphy said that even though as a “hard-liner” on gun regulations and a “skeptic” on Trump’s commitment, he thought the conversation was worth having. He hoped discussions would continue over the next two weeks of recess to ensure the firearms debate doesn’t stall out entirely before the Senate comes back from recess.
Murphy admits that this may look “naive,” and he allows that if Trump does agree to something, it will likely be very modest. Indeed, it’s still very plausible that all Trump will end up embracing is something that deals primarily with mental health and is limited exclusively to things that are relatively easy for Republicans to support.
For Democrats, such an outcome likely won’t be ambitious enough and will smack of giving Trump a way of claiming he’s doing something, even as he isn’t making any good-faith effort to find a bipartisan solution that both sides can buy into.
And even if Trump does agree to some kind of expanded background-check proposal, it’s an open question whether Republicans will go along with it. It’s also plausible that if he did, right-wing media would erupt, and Trump would again back off, as he has in the past.
All this points to a broader dilemma for Democrats: Given all we’ve seen — the racism, the concerted and deliberate efforts to incite hate and divide the country, the corruption, the trampling of norms, the contempt for governing and our institutions, the malevolence and depravity and all-around destructiveness — is there any point at all in trying to find such accommodations with Trump?
You often hear it said that so doing risks normalizing Trump and sending a message to voters that plays down the urgency of the rolling civic disaster we’re trapped in right now. For instance, the occasional intimations we get that Democrats might try to negotiate an infrastructure package with Trump has become a kind of morbid stock joke among those who believe Democrats are not taking that urgency seriously enough.
But I think in the end Murphy is right — Democrats have to keep trying for such policy advances, and they have to proceed, at least in certain situations, from the premise that movement from Trump in such areas is not beyond the realm of possibility.
Democrats can make the case that we’re in a dire situation even as they try to scrounge out progress where possible — and if something reasonable did somehow come within reach on guns, that could have real value.
And even if doing this results in nothing, handled correctly this posture can send a message to voters as to what responsible leadership could look like, and beat back the enveloping power of toxic cynicism. To echo Murphy, this may seem naive. But somehow, the alternative seems worse.
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