Alabama was a good reminder of what democratic politics looks like

Image: Cam Miller/Flickr

What a relief that election in Alabama was. Not because Trump lost (which he did) or a quite decent guy won (ditto) but because it was a genuine political event -- an election -- rather than an ersatz one, like an FBI or congressional investigation into a sensational plot featuring Russian villains. Lest we forget, democratic politics is about the people making the decisions themselves.

I feel the same about impeachment, or forcing him to resign in disgrace, as a way to eject Trump. These are contrived, titillating dramas with elite casts, and ultimately resolve nothing. (Non-ultimately, I admit, they can be deeply satisfying.)

People aspire to the Watergate model, but it resolved nothing. Nixon left in shame, followed by four aimless years of Jimmy Carter, then eight of Ronald Reagan, who was even more damaging than Nixon, then George Bush I, who started the endless Iraq catastrophe, etc., culminating, inevitably I'd say, in Trump.

Beneath it all, was an inextinguishable legacy of rage and bitterness. Based on what? They couldn't beat "our guy" legitimately, i.e. electorally, so they went all legal.

In the U.S., almost everything ends up in litigation, the individual fighting alone, like the driver with Pennsylvania plates who doored me on Bloor St. and flew out of her car, shouting I was at fault, she'd see me in court, call my lawyer.

Why? Because too many Americans lack faith in social or political forces, such as elections, government, unions, parties, social movements, so it all ends with you standing alone in court fighting the good fight with Clarence Darrow, Atticus Finch or Bob Mueller as your lawyer (theoretically) and a Solomonic judge on the bench. Each time one of these fantasies plays out, even in reality, it further undermines confidence in democratic political processes.

The Russiagate investigations are quasi-judicial dramas, subbing for real politics, with Robert Mueller, G-man, as the "universally respected" hero. An Atticus for our times. He's the guy, though, who led the FBI for 11 years, post-9/11, ruthlessly smothering civil rights. Not so heroic.

If Trump was impeached or hounded from office under legal threat, like Nixon, instead of being electorally defeated, it would lead to the same hangover of resentment -- rightly, I'd say -- among his devotees. When Trump says Democrats are trying to take away an election he won fairly, he's only wrong about the fairly part, and few U.S. elections are fair. JFK won by cheating in Illinois and he's among the immortals. You still have to win it in an election, that's not optional.

Besides, the Russia claims look very thin. Sure, they tried to interfere with U.S. politics, everyone does that. The U.S. messes merrily with elections in Europe, Latin America, most recently in Ukraine. Trump's people might have "colluded" or tried to -- I don't see why the Russians would've let them -- but there seems nothing outright illegal in that.

The spiciest area may involve Trump owing money to Kremlin-linked Russian banks -- since no one else would loan to him --1 and they manoeuvred to make him president so they could pressure him. But none of that alters the democratic consideration. If the Republicans shut Mueller down, or get him fired, as they seemed determined to during congressional hearings this week — well, there would definitely be a democratic silver lining.

Trump beat Hillary in the face of the Hollywood audiotape, mocking the disabled, calling for violence, outright racism -- so what if the Russians weighed in? If you can't beat him in the light of all that, you don't deserve to be there instead.

What would taking Trump on politically, versus indirectly and legalistically, look like? You could still deal with the Russia stuff, but in public debate and electoral contexts. You could challenge the misogyny and racism, as Alabama's senator-elect Doug Jones did, but effectively, versus ineptly, à la Hillary Clinton.

It would largely be on economic and class issues -- versus Trump's preferred grounds of race -- like his plutocratic cabinet and ludicrous tax bill.

Steve Bannon (quoted by Frank Rich) may have captured it best. He said, "The only question before us" is whether it "is going to be a left-wing populism or a right-wing populism." That's a more auspicious political divide than good (or God) versus evil, or Us vs. Them. It makes you think Bannon might fear Bernie Sanders most -- the incarnation of left populism -- but he's smart enough not to say it.

Correction: Sorry about that. I misrepresented the Toronto school board’s process for selecting gifted students last week. In recent years they’ve wisely changed it so all students are preliminarily screened, not just those chosen by teachers.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: Cam Miller/Flickr

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