What the Right Did to Carter, The Left Must Do to Trump

You can’t deny the strategy worked.

Yesterday, I reaffirmed by 2015 call for progressives to be as vigorous in their defense of President Obama’s legacy as right-wingers are in their defense of President Reagan’s legacy. In that 2015 piece, I noted:

[November 4, 2015] marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Reagan’s victory over President Jimmy Carter. For the past thirty-five years, Carter’s legacy has been relentlessly vilified by the right, with insufficient defense from the left. Sometimes, it seems as though progressives are ashamed of Carter—a man whose foresight on energy was remarkable, a man whose commitment to peace was unshakable.

Progressives cannot allow Barack Obama’s legacy to be relentlessly trashed the way Carter’s legacy was. Quite frankly, we need a Barack Obama Legacy Project, one that will recognize, today, tomorrow and forever, his true significance to America and the world.

The long right-wing effort to associate Carter with failure and weakness in the public mind has been, unfortunately, successful. To this day, thanks to the right, when Americans think of Carter, they think of “killer rabbits” and “malaise,” not his leadership on clean power and his efforts to promote peace in a troubled world.

Right-wingers had a gameplan, and they executed it to perfection. The goal was not simply to force Carter out of the White House; the goal was to associate the entire Democratic Party with Carter’s alleged silliness and shortsightedness, thus effectively removing the Democratic Party as an option for voters heading to the ballot box. By pounding away at Carter even after he left office, Republicans were able gain ground they’ve yet to really lose.

Well, turnabout is fair play, no?

Remember that great segment from Saturday Night Live two days ago:

A key goal for the American progressive movement–the sine qua non of making further progressive policy gains, in fact–should be to politically and culturally penalize the right for its failure to wash its hands of Trump, and to associate, in the public mind, Trump and his party with absolute failure. The idea is to make the right as ashamed of any connection, however tangential, to Trump as the left was ashamed of any connection, however tangential, to Carter.

Progressives must make clear that there is no fundamental difference between Trump and the party he represents. Republicans who do not wish to be regarded in the public mind as Trump clones should have dissolved their allegiance to the GOP as soon as he became the party’s nominee last year, in recognition of the fact that Trump had made bigotry and buffoonery the official ethos of the GOP regardless of whether he went on to win or lose the general election. George Will (a non-politician, granted) had enough common sense to flee from GOP iniquity once Trump became the party’s nominee; what’s the excuse for other Republicans?

The vision should be to make Trump’s avarice and amorality a political horror for the right for years to come. Right-wingers must be made to pay for the damages that Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, Ryan Zinke, Wilbur Ross, Rex Tillerson, Steve Bannon and Donald Trump will inflict upon this country.

If progressives fail to make Trump’s legacy an permanent scar on the collective face of the right, then progressivism will have failed politically in this country. Trumpism has to haunt the right well into the 2020s and 2030s. Progressives should emphasize, as aggressively and as repeatedly as possible, that Trump is the GOP, and that the party is every bit as crazy and as callous as he is. The progressive dream must be to make Trump’s memory a perpetual nightmare for the right. Can that dream be achieved? What will happen to this country if that dream doesn’t become political reality?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.