Welcome to the Liberal Tea Party
February 17, 2017
Liberals are often parodied as effete, humorless, latte-sipping politically correct yuppies living in blue-state bubbles.
Variations of that stereotype popped up in a seemingly endless array of hot takes following Donald Trump’s shocking win last year. Politicos rushed to declare that left-wing smugness was the culprit, with many deciding that feckless Democrats were destined to wander in a political desert for years to come.
So it seems to have come as quite a shock to just about everyone — the nascent President Trump administration, Republicans who control Congress and plenty of members of the beltway media — that liberals aren’t simply rolling over in 2017.
From the Women’s March in Washington (which dwarfed the attendance for Trump’s inauguration) to protests of his Muslim ban in airports across the country, progressives have proven they’re capable of organized displays of outrage — and even doing so effectively.
Many Republicans and pundits expected Democrats to follow their defeatist playbook after George W. Bush’s narrow, U.S. Supreme Court-decided 2000 victory. The Dems would privately sulk but would largely go along with the new president’s cabinet picks in the name of national unity. They’d work with him on issues that were popular in the polls, while liberal activists wouldn’t be heard from for years.
That wasn’t a bad bet to make. Democrats have been more prone to compromise than Republicans in recent years.
And the party clearly has big cracks cutting through it, as some Bernie Sanders loyalists sat out the general election or voted for third-party candidates over Hillary Clinton. Disaffected Sanders supporters likely exceeded Trump’s margin in the three states that put him over the top in the Electoral College: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
As a result, state Democratic parties are facing upheaval, although an insurgent movement petered out at Michigan’s state convention last weekend. But the Sanders-vs.-the-establishment dynamic is still playing out with the Democratic National Committee chair race.
So you could see why conservatives and analysts might think progressives would be too preoccupied with internecine warfare to fight Trump.
As it turns out, liberals can walk and chew gum at the same time. They haven’t forgotten that Clinton actually won almost 3 million more votes than Trump, even if pundits eager to blame out-of-touch lefty ideas for her loss have.
Every day, the new president does something to make progressives’ blood boil — and it’s fueling demonstrations, donations to liberal causes and interest in the Democratic Party.
Just consider the first month of Trump’s presidency. He’s tapped exceedingly controversial figures, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a blockbuster GOP donor whose disdain for public schools is well-known to those of us in her native Michigan.
Even more troubling is the faith Trump instilled in now-resigned National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — who has a fondness for baseless conspiracy theories and may have jeopardized American interests with Russia.
Trump also threatened the U.S. judiciary (a co-equal branch of the government, courtesy of the Founding Fathers) after judges rebuffed his sloppy executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
These have been mobilizing events. Liberals regard Trump’s presidency as a national emergency.
As it turns out, pundits looking for the progressive playbook in the Trump era needed only to go back to 2009. That was when the Tea Party became a driving force in the GOP, spurred by Barack Obama’s historic victory that would usher in the stimulus, Affordable Care Act and Wall Street regulation.
Conservatives packed the town halls of Democratic members of Congress and shouted them down. Now it’s turnabout fair play, with progressives jamming GOP members’ events.
Count me among those who expected the new leader of the free world to get off to a flying start, aided by GOP majorities in both the House and Senate. After all, that’s worked out pretty well for Governor Rick Snyder, who’s been blessed with strong legislative majorities to rubber-stamp much of his agenda.
I thought House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would already have his tax cut for the wealthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would have slayed Obamacare as promised.
But Trump’s Twitter tantrums and national security follies are throwing a wrench into the long-awaited implementation of an ambitious conservative agenda. And Republicans are clearly unnerved by angry liberal protests.
Now progressives won’t be able to block Trump and the GOP Congress on everything. There will be plenty of setbacks. But they’re certainly enjoying more early success than anyone ever imagined.