President Donald Trump reached across the aisle with two hands last week to form a short-term fiscal deal with Democrats.
Pundits promptly went crazy. Somehow, the decision to postpone the coming fight over spending and debt until the new year, a shift of just a few months, became a sign that the two-party system was on its deathbed. “Bound to No Party, Trump Upends 150 Years of Two-Party Rules,” blared a New York Times headline.
To be clear, this was a unique situation that doesn’t comport with most debt limit discusions. Unlike recent negotiations over the government’s spending authority, these were brief and involved none of the partisan brinksmanship that has previously led to a lot of angst and, occasionally policy progress, such as the substantial spending reductions that results from the sequester.
But imagine the image of the White House threatening to shut down the government at the same time that Texas was beginning to rebuild from one of the most destructive hurricanes in the history of the United States and Florida was staring down the barrel of one of the most fearsome storms in recent memory. Never mind the optics, or even the politics, of something like that. It would have just been plain bad form. As Jim Newell explains in Slate:
“You have to accept (the deal) for what it was, and it’s a very short-term solution to an immediate problem, and I don’t foresee that being a pattern in the long term,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune said. “I think the president wanted to show unity, and it’s important given the circumstances facing Texas, Louisiana, and Florida that we show unity.”
Most Republicans are describing Trump’s agreement as the legislative equivalent of a total eclipse: a set of factors aligned in historically rare sequence—his interest in unity, his interest in getting the debt ceiling raised without drama, his personal pique with Republican leaders’ performance this year—that caused the president to arrive at this abnormal conclusion.
Despite the perfect storm of political circumstances, Democrats should nevertheless demonstrate a little grace and humility. After all, it’s unlikely that, given the same opportunity, they would have been similarly willing to embrace bipartisan detente in the name of national unity. Instead, the #resistance is lining up to count this deal among the biggest existential threats to have ever faced their nascent movement.
Noah Rothman writes in Commentary:
For liberals, the moment is urgent. Donald Trump just proved his self-proclaimed capacity to eschew tribal politics and cross the aisle. This is nothing less than an existential threat to one of the few things Democrats of all stripes agree on: anti-Trumpism. They cannot allow Trump to undermine their only message.
This incredibly cynical sentiment is nothing new. Countless liberal pundits and left-leaning groups have expressed similar sentiments from the very moment that Donald Trump was elected president. Indeed, Randall Kennedy, writing in the American Prospect, presaged this very “crisis” for liberalism last year, writing:
It will be difficult to keep fresh a keen sense of outrage, indignation, anger, disappointment, and, yes, contempt in the coming weeks, months, and years. Inertia dulls idealism and normalizes the outrageous. . . .But it is incumbent upon those who are rightly alarmed by the Trump ascendancy to resist familiar conventions. This is a peculiarly trying moment that will hopefully prompt an unprecedented assertion of resoluteness in defense of progressive values.
Never mind that the Trump Administration hasn’t exactly been shy about its willingness and desire to work in a bipartisan fashion.
“[The president] is eager to get to 218 on a lot of his initiatives, whether it’s tax reform, infrastructure,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Monday. “And I think that he is going to be willing to listen to other voices on the other side to figure out if people want to work with him to get these big things done, to make Washington work, to enhance the lives of the American people. Then he’s going to work with them.”
As it turns out, there may be some Democrats that want to work with President Trump on some issues. Are they self serving in their choices? Absolutely. Let’s not be naive. But for liberals to lambast any attempt to work together—even if it serves their immediate interest—as an “existential threat” to anti-Trumpism is absolutely ridiculous. It speaks to the hollowness of the Democrat agenda and the cravenness of the liberal groups that make up the #resistance.