It has been nearly 18 months that I have walked in lockstep agreement with all of my fellow Democrats, ever aware of how bizarre and unnatural it is for a progressive to do so. We have been united in the face of Trump’s dire and avowed threat to all we hold dear for so long that I had almost forgotten what it feels like to engage in a crossfire of self-righteous bitching amongst my fellow travelers, locked in an internecine battle between the importance of being Righteous & Correct, versus the necessity of following anything resembling a political strategy. It’s our age-old conflict.
The reason I haven’t felt compelled to speak an ill word against a Democrat in such a long time, despite my liberal predilection for doing so, is that every Republican in Congress has lain prostrate before the fat lord of darkness since our national nightmare began — save for Corker, Graham, and Flake, whose mouths occasionally write checks that their asses won’t deign to cash. I couldn’t even argue with the obstructionist chicanery that the Senate Dems were pulling, no matter how symmetrical it may have been to that of the Obama-era Republicans, on account of the whole “Republicans are aiding and abetting presidential treason” thing.
How was I to complain when our friends across the aisle were engaging in pure malefaction of the state, betraying the social contract of the American System at every turn, and doing so on behalf of a godless, barbaric Manchurian president in thrall to the Soviet Union? In my eyes, all it took for Democrats to maintain their moral and civic advantage was to show up and act like real legislators: in other words, they just needed to manage not to shut down the government.
So, it is my distinct pleasure to return to my natural state, and to engage in the friendly fire and the eating of our own that is the highest calling of the American Left. It is with great joy and exultation that I say to all my fellow Democrats complaining about Schumer “capitulating” to the Republicans: please, for the love of God, shut the fuck up.
At the federal level, Democrats have no positive power with which to set the agenda. They have negative power; that is to say, thanks to the eminently-mortal filibuster rule and the stupid-ass debt ceiling law that our team vocally despises, Democrats can refuse to give cloture to approve the borrowing of money that was already appropriated, and this Rube Goldberg contraption of loopholes will shut down our beloved federal government. Shutdowns are an abomination before the god of Democrats, and they are a thoroughly contemptible means for legislative action, no matter how justified the ends.
The only reason that we found ourselves using a tactic we so disdain is that the shutdown wasn’t any kind of political strategy, it was a trap Trump accidentally laid for us with his desperation. He only rescinded DACA in the first place because he was desperate for the approval of his “economically anxious” base, while his desperation to be loved by the media drove him to publicly extol the virtues of DACA recipients, despite John Kelly and Stephen Miller’s firm view that Dreamers are all vile, interloping mud-vermin.
Trump was desperate for a win on taxes, so his Congressional leadership cajoled non-asshole GOP senators into voting for a bill they knew was dogshit with promises of action on DACA, creating the appearance of momentum for a deal. Trump was also desperate to be seen speaking coherent English after Fire & Fury put those abilities in doubt, which led to a televised meeting wherein he promised to support any deal put in front of him. These feints towards decency, coupled with the through-the-roof public support for Dreamers, gave everyone in DC the strong sense that the deal was definitely going to happen, and the machinery of state lumbered towards that end…
…Then Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin walked into the Oval Office, with a generous and genuinely bipartisan agreement in hand, and they were surprised to find their former negotiating partner flanked by a hateful, cracker-ass synod of immigration hard-liners. Backed by his little round table of White Knights, he spewed his “shithole” spiel at the senators, and the lumbering machinery of state jumped the rails and crashed spectacularly. McConnell, following the boss’s non-lead, welched on his promises to Flake and Collins with his typical unctuous, amoral flair. Democrats had staked positions from which they could not back down, because of base politics and/or basic decency, thus we blundered into constitutional crisis.
Through no fault of their own, the shutdown left Senate Democrats in a tenuous position with no political cover. They hadn’t really planned for this outcome, and they were clearly aware of the political peril because they let their vulnerable red-state incumbents vote with the Republicans. The five Republicans who voted against the CR gave the Democrats the breathing room to lose those votes, but they provided no cover against the White House talking point that “even Democrats” knew the shutdown was a bad idea.
The White House pulled out all the stops on racist, anti-immigrant messaging to their base, and the right-wing media transmuted 800,000 Americans into a swarthy, invading horde in the space of a day. On top of that, the public seemed to be buying their bullshit about how Dems would rather fight for immigrants than give poor children the healthcare which Republicans had cruelly withheld. Everyone (except Republican primary voters) loves Dreamers, but it turns out that Americans didn’t love them quite enough to understand why we’d close national parks on their behalf.
So Senator Schumer took another look at his cards, sighed, and prudently folded a shit hand. He’s been run through the goddamn wringer for doing so by Dreamer activists, the liberal chattering class, and all of the Senators gunning to become our 46th, 47th, or 48th president in 2020; they’re all seemingly indifferent to the fact that their party does not control the Senate, let alone any branch of the federal government. While progressives have been changed by Trump, they still want Rome built in a day whether or not we have the bricks, and any elected Dem who dares suggest that won’t happen can still count on being hectored as a neoliberal corporate shill by their voters. It’s what we do.
I get why Dreamer activists are freaking out about an existential threat, and I get why that existential question animates so many progressives safely ensconced in the security of a blue passport. I hate the thought that we’d consider spending twenty billion dollars on a useless wall that was conceived entirely to give Trump’s addled mind a physical talisman on which to focus during campaign-rally rants. I hate the casual cruelty of this administration as much as anyone, as do the Democratic lawmakers who actually have to resolve this situation via the art of the possible.
Which brings me to the main reason y’all need to shut the fuck up: the deal Schumer made secured six years of funding for CHIP, which Republicans had shown no interest in restoring because they despise the poor. In particular, they resent poor children for fucking with their “poor people are worthless parasites” messaging strategy, because poor kids wantonly flaunt their innocence and helplessness, which obscures their broke-ass parents’ responsibility for failing as human beings.
There was a reason that CHIP was not paid for until now, and the GOP was not going to give that up for free. Chuck got that concession out of the deal, and beyond that, McConnell’s promise to resolve DACA is a matter of public record this time. If he betrays the trust of his fellow legislators and the spirit of the deal, it’ll happen out in the open this go-round, which will have consequences for both sides’ messaging. Mitch gives fewer fucks than anyone who’s ever set foot in the Capitol, but he will respond to pressure eventually.
The House GOP is already trying to walk sideways on the spirit of that deal, but there are still moderate House districts to compete for, and Paul Ryan can only dodge so many calls from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The White House has gone full-on Know-Nothing about the Dreamers, basically suggesting that they’ve infiltrated the United States in order to perform Aztec human sacrifices on our precious white women, but since they only took that tack after Trump mislead everyone with his “Bill of Love” routine, the administration’s muddled leadership has given one too many legislators a raging hard-on for all that “coequal branches” crap.
On the topic of coequal branches, Schumer got screwed as a negotiator when the courts stepped in and pushed the DACA deadline back by at least four months. I realize that there’s no chance of everyone who needs DACA protection having their paperwork properly processed in a timely fashion, and this administration has proven that they’re trying to deport everyone they can as soon as they can. As long as America waits, there will be a steady trickle of casualties for our fecklessness, but until SCOTUS strikes down that order, it’s hard to summon the sense of urgency that Democrats need to maintain a strong position in the talks.
Chuck Schumer did what he could, and now he’s taken the Wall off the table. The professional whining class should continue to apply pressure on him, because that pressure stiffens spines, but acting like he’s failed us all is unfair and unhelpful. If “losing” means that nine million kids can get their prescriptions filled and the government keeps running, I’ll lose all day long. After all, I’m cursed to be a liberal, ever weakened by my sincere moral concerns.