Wednesday

October 18th, 2017

Insight

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Salena Zito

By Salena Zito

Published April 4, 2017

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

A few days after last year's presidential election, Mike Pence, then the vice president-elect, attended a Broadway production of the musical "Hamilton."

The boos he heard from the audience, he said afterward, were merely "what freedom sounds like."

His response was appropriate because freedom is kind of messy, especially in a nation with such a broad range of religious, gender and political viewpoints that often collide on a minute-by-minute basis.

We Americans are very parochial beings. From our political points of view to our religious traditions and our community pride, we decide what tribe we belong to and protect it when we feel it is threatened.

Democracy is also messy. So is governing — something President Donald J. Trump should have pointed out frequently as he worked with Congress to reform America's health care system.

The battle for ultimate control of the bill was always going to be tribal: Republicans were split between the "Hell no" crowd (the House Freedom Caucus) and the moderates, while Democrats were unwilling to even look at any proposal.

A presidential statement such as: "Hey, America. This is what democracy looks like, not marching in the streets just to march but doing the hard work of negotiating with Congress. And, by the way, this is part of what makes us great" would have been a great reminder that, yes, governing is hard, but this is what you sent him to Washington, D.C., to accomplish and it will ultimately be worthwhile.

In other words, Trump needs to remind people — with the same bravado that took him to the White House — that getting bills passed isn't going to be easy but that does not mean it won't eventually get done.

What the health care debacle did do for Trump was hinder the notion from the left, the resistance movement and the press that he's a ruthless dictator who will turn our county into Soviet-era Russia. After all, if you cannot control your own party, you certainly will not rule the country with an iron fist.

There is a lot of hypocrisy in complaining that Trump is both dictatorial and ineffectual.

It's been almost five months since the November election, yet in many ways, the news media has failed to move on to other stories because it didn't get that story right. That's a drag that has pulled both it and the Trump administration into political quicksand, making it impossible for anyone to move forward because both entities are trying to correct each other.

"It's like it is still midnight on November 8 and we are waiting as a country for the dawn on November 9," explained Brad Todd, a founding partner of OnMessage Inc. "So many people cannot get to the next day."

A lot of people who are trying to understand why people voted for Trump believe that those voters did not care whether he was competent or not and were going to vote for him because they were voting against America's elites.

This is only partially true. There were negative and positive elements to their votes; they were excited by Trump not only because he appeared to like them and offered to be their champion but also because they thought he was skilled. Just look at Trump Tower, the plane and the role he played on his reality television show.

This presidency is in its infancy; this populism is not. It is neither the beginning nor the end of it, and in all likelihood, it will continue for a very long time. Our world is changing in technological terms, more rapidly and drastically than our values, traditions and economic stability.

Despite the drama of the health care vote, the president has not lost the base of supporters who put him into office. As Todd said, we are stuck at midnight on Nov. 8 — yes, he can lose them, but he hasn't yet.

And going after the Freedom Caucus is also smart. Why? It is Trump's unique pivot of persuasion and one of the things that his supporters love about him.

In Freedom Caucus districts, he is the only person of whom those House members are afraid. No one else can scare them, certainly not House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The only thing they fear is a primary, and the president is the one person who could do that.

Should he continue to have them over for bowling? Yes. But he should also continue to hammer them on social media, in local newspapers and on local talk radio.

Complaining about them to the Washington Post means nothing to these members. Go in their districts, though, and he can make them bend.

That is what his voters are looking for, and that is what will keep them on his side because they know that is what democracy looks like.

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between.

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