"I Draw the Line at Treason"
What to do about Trump.
The future of our country is hanging by a very thin thread. The slow implosion of Donald Trump has begun. How we handle it will make all the difference.
The creators of this sign undoubtedly meant, “Make America think again,” but Trump’s behavior might be making some people “think again” about continuing to support him.
The Bigger Picture
Things are not looking good for Donald Trump. Some people are abandoning the sinking ship. Others are threatening to take everybody down with it. This situation will not be even close to resolved by Election Day.
Some people want to see Donald Trump personally crushed and humiliated, but then argue that we can’t put him in jail or people will think we are engaging in “political persecution” and there will be an endless cycle of retribution.
The opposite is true. We need to leave Donald Trump to law enforcement and stand firmly behind the principle that no one is above the law.
We have to stop letting Trump and his followers manipulate our feelings. We need to redirect our anger in a more productive direction. That is the only way we can welcome refugees from the cult of Trump, win swing voters who are tired of the fighting, and motivate our frustrated base.
I Draw the Line at Treason
It has been a rather astonishing couple of weeks. Not only was the FBI forced to search Trump’s home to retrieve top secret documents, but there is reason to believe that the investigation may include charges of espionage. Meanwhile, investigations continue into fraud in Trump’s family business, interference in elections in Georgia and elsewhere and, of course, the January 6th insurrection hearings.
This may be the first time that the cascade of bad news about Trump and his people is drowning out statements by Trump. Some people are actually starting to wait for more information before leaping to Trump’s defense. Meanwhile, the GOP are feeling the backlash against the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and angry teachers and parents are fighting back against the education culture wars. With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, it really feels that the tide might be turning in our direction for once.
I’m actually encouraged by all the positive content coming out about Biden and the Democrats’ passage of important legislation. That shows that people understand that our mission in the public debate is not to convince our opponents that they are wrong, but to persuade the people watching the public debate to support us.
Whether we like it or not, the whole point of persuasion is to win over people who may have at some point voted for the opposition, and that includes Trump.
Refugees from the Cult of Trump
Somebody on social media shared that that their father, a die-hard Trump supporter, came to them and said “I just can't do it anymore. I draw the line at treason.”
There are two ways this could go:
1. He could dump Trump but keep Trumpism. Apparently, Alex Jones has already switched to Camp DeSantis, and Rupert Murdoch is considering it.
2. He could have a crisis of faith and question everything Team Trump has told him over the years. The “shooting someone on Fifth Avenue” claim will undoubtedly hold for many supporters, but there is also a real possibility that, for many, the whole house of cards may come tumbling down. All of these candidates who are literally running on nothing but a Trump endorsement and the “Big Lie” may find that they have hung an anchor around their own necks.
We need to make space for people to take their first step in the right direction, and we should reward them for doing so.
Step one is to stop insulting people for supporting or having supported Trump. As Megan McArdle from the Washington Post says,
“…if you are a Trump voter, (believing what we say about Trump) means trusting people who have spent much of the last six years explaining that you voted for Trump because you are a) a bigot b) a fascist and/or c) too dumb to come in out of the rain.
You wouldn’t trust anyone who talked like that about you, either.”
As the legal process moves forward, there may be millions of people looking to distance themselves from Trump. Every time we use a derogatory term like “MAGAt” we increase the odds that they go the first route, sticking with Trumpism. We would prefer they take the second route, doubting the validity of everything Trump told them, including what he told them about us.
Think of it this way. What would you do if someone in your family came back to you after spending years in a cult?
You would welcome them home. You wouldn’t talk about how bad their cult leader was. It wouldn’t be the right time to say, “I told you so” or bring up other disagreements you might have with them. You would treat them with kindness. You would make them feel like the world you are offering them is better than the one they left behind, not just by telling them so, but by demonstrating it with your actions.
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A Balancing Act
The time has come to leave Trump to his fate at the hands of law enforcement.
Michelle Obama tells us to take the high road. She happens to be right. Not just because it’s the morally right thing to do. It happens to be the best strategic move.
The more we relish the legal problems facing Team Trump, the more fodder we provide for those who wish to portray the process as a partisan “witch hunt.” You will notice that the Biden Administration is taking great pains to keep the Justice Department at arm’s length. The Committee hearings on January 6th are being carefully managed to present as bipartisan as possible.
The best thing we can do is to help frame these investigations as politically impartial.
They will attack us, no matter what we say or do. We should ignore their attacks so as to deprive them of the amplification they seek in the public debate, and we should take the wind out of the sails of their persecution strategy by being infuriatingly polite.
Say This, Not That
DO NOT respond to Trump’s excuses for all the things he has been accused of doing. We do not want to give those claims more attention or feed his persecution complex.
DO NOT accuse Trump supporters of being hypocrites after what they said about Hillary Clinton. We don’t want to draw parallels between the two situations. Hillary Clinton was not guilty and she was subjected to an unfair degree of investigation. We don’t want to imply, even inadvertently, that the same is true for Trump.
WHAT THEY SAY: “Roger Stone says FBI is acting like Biden’s personal Gestapo.”
DO NOT SAY: “President Biden does not control the FBI and he doesn’t use them to harass political opponents.”
Remember to not use terms together that you do not want associated with each other. We do not want the term “President Biden” associated with terms like “Gestapo” or “control the FBI” or “harass political opponents.”
It is strategically better to leave Biden out of it altogether and frame the situation as being strictly Trump versus the FBI. Going after the FBI is a tough position for many on the Right, as it seriously conflicts with their “law and order / back the blue” position.
WHAT THEY SAY:
SAY THIS: “Mr. Trump is a civilian now, just like the rest of us, and he has to obey the law just like everybody else.”
SAY THIS: “The FBI is an independent law enforcement agency, the best and most respected in the country, if not the world. We have no doubt they will continue to conduct their investigation with the highest integrity and consideration for Mr. Trump’s civil rights.”
I recommend calling Trump, “Mr. Trump” for two reasons. First, “Mr. Trump” unlike “The Former President” doesn’t include the word “President.” The title “Mr.” emphasizes his common civilian status. Using the title “Mr.” is also blandly polite, which helps to throw a monkeywrench into their persecution strategy.
The Rule of Law
There is a new column every day filled with hand wringing about whether the Justice Department is overstepping it’s bounds or whether holding Trump accountable is worth the political costs. People ask, “What would happen if the FBI were investigating a Democrat?” This whole debate needs to stop.
There is absolutely no question that we have to stand by the rule of law. Mr. Trump should be treated exactly like anyone else would be treated, or better yet, how anyone else should be treated.
We might risk widespread violence. We might risk retaliation if Trump supporters get back in power. But the greatest risk of all to our society would be to validate Trump’s defining principle: if you are rich enough or famous enough, the law does not apply to you. To validate that principle would be to lose the whole ball game.
During the financial crisis of 2008, the idea of being “Too Big to Fail” and the lack of accountability for banks and bankers contributed significantly to people’s lack of faith in our governing institutions, as well as adding fuel to the idea that Democrats would put the interests of financial elites over those of regular people.
Anti-government radicals win when all faith in public institutions is destroyed. For us, it is critical to restore people’s trust in each other and in government.
Some might argue that we are hypocrites for supporting the FBI while criticizing police. The whole point of being for the rule of law is that nobody is above the law. That applies to the FBI and the police.
All authority comes from the consent of the governed. That authority is only legitimate when it adheres to the principle of the rule of law. What we are opposed to is the abuse of power: when people in authority break the law or use their authority to play favorites or to persecute people. This is exactly why we fight both police brutality and autocratic behavior by elected officials like Mr. Trump.
The Bottom Line
Mr. Trump is a civilian now, just like the rest of us. That means he has to obey the law, just like everybody else.
This is America. The constitution says that everyone is equal before the law. It shouldn’t matter if you used to be president or if you’re a billionaire. Nobody is above the law.
The FBI is the best and most respected law enforcement body in the world. We have faith in the FBI and the entire Justice Department to handle this situation with integrity and protect Mr. Trump’s rights.
Mr. Trump had power that comes from wealth and elected office. If he abused that power and broke the law, he will face the consequences of his actions. Meanwhile, we will focus on continuing to deliver for the American people.
It is to the Right’s advantage to portray this situation as a purely partisan battle, to create false equivalency between their reality-free portrayal of us, and our accurate portrayal of them. We can only win that battle by refusing to play it.
We win by focusing the public debate on our principles. The real difference between us and Trump and his followers is that we believe in the rule of law, that our freedom depends on the principle that we are all equal before the law, and that abuse of power is a threat to our freedom and our equality at every level, from the school board to the White House.
Thanks, as always, for reading. I hope you are able to use this in your work and your activism!
I look forward to your feedback and ideas.
Over the next 77 days, we have to convince a wide swath of voters that we are focused on what they care about. How can we inspire our core voters and reach Trump refugees, working people, women, suburban parents, conservative people of color, disaffected youth and just about everyone else?
Defusing the Culture Wars
Talking about what is wrong with our opponents has never worked as an electoral strategy. Even the nuttiest conservatives only win when they invest in positive ads that mis-portray them as kindly moderates. We have to show people what we believe in and what we’re willing to fight for. We can turn the culture wars on their heads by showing people that we are the champions of core American values like equality, truth, freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
But ultimately, the culture wars are an attempt to distract people from what’s really going on.
Resetting the Public Debate
People in this country are stretched to their limits, economically and emotionally. Everything is uncertain. They feel hopeless, powerless and scared about the rising costs of everything, their lack of rights at work, pandemics, climate disasters, crime, guns and political division.
We have to take back the entire public debate and refocus it on this one key question: are we going to rise to the occasion and tackle all these problems together or descend into the anarchy of every man for himself?