Democrats Must Reject the Coming Bipartisanship Trap

Misbehaving dogs, mischievous children and cheating spouses all share a common behavior: once they’ve been caught behaving cruelly and selfishly, they swindle their victim with ersatz overtures of affection, often publicly in front of others. Refusing these overtures makes the victim look mean and unforgiving. Accepting them opens the door to further, more aggressive wrongdoing.

Republicans are set to engage in the same manipulative game with Democrats in 2018. Knowing that voters are set to punish them severely for promoting wildly corrupt and unpopular policies, they’re hoping to ploy Democrats with promises of bipartisan policy. Republicans expect that if they offer false olive branches and Democrats refuse them, voters will grow angry at everyone and throw up their hands in collective frustration. They assume the media will pliantly adopt their usual both-sides-refuse-to-work-together template pieces.

But it won’t work. If Democrats are smart they will reject the gambit and refuse to be played.

To be sure, there are many issues that will require basic compromises in the next legislative year so that vulnerable people are protected and so that the government continues to function. Budgets will need to be adopted, DACA will need to be dealt with, the children’s health insurance program re-extended, debt ceilings lifted, and much else. Republicans will need Democratic votes, and Democrats should use all the leverage they can to force Republicans to observe the minimum priorities in keeping with simple human decency.

But the GOP has already demonstrated shocking bad faith in the past two years that goes beyond political differences and veers into direct and open malevolence. Republicans in Congress and their media allies have gone far out of their way to protect a clearly incompetent and unstable president from investigations into crimes of state, collusion with a hostile foreign power, abuse of power, obstruction of justice, tax evasion and beyond. They have done so by attempting to lambaste the country’s own intelligence agencies and employees–even Republicans who were appointed by other Republicans–as somehow in league with Democrats and engaged in a coup against the president, even though the reality is that partisan FBI agents in the New York leaked a bogus October Surprise on Anthony Weiner’s laptop to conservative media figures, shifting the election to Trump at the last minute.

Republicans have used unprecedented secrecy and naked partisanship in a failed attempt to take away healthcare from millions of Americans for no good reason beyond tax cuts for the rich and the desire to stick it to the previous president. They then used the same tactics to pass an abomination of a corrupt tax bill explicitly designed to reward conservative donors and punish blue states.

They have left the American citizens of Puerto Rico without power for months and have hampered every effort to control climate change despite the havoc being caused by increasingly destructive weather events like California wildfires (in December!) and brutal Caribbean hurricanes, instead prioritizing coal mine executives in West Virginia and oil barons in Texas. They have promoted unconstitutional bans on immigration from certain Muslim countries, have set racist immigration enforcement agents loose to terrorize families for no good reason, and made common cause with violent defenders of Confederate slaveholder memorials while abetting a collective white supremacist hysteria over African-American football players peacefully protesting police violence. They actively supported a twice disgraced, multiply accused child molester and children’s charity thief for U.S. Senate.

That’s just a short list. It would take volumes just to scratch the surface of the injuries done to basic decency by Republicans in only the last year. All of them are deeply unpopular and have set the Republican Party on a collision course with accountability in November 2018 and beyond.

They will ask Democrats to dance with them and help cover their tracks. They will hope that Democrats overlook all of this in an effort to be the adult in the room. They assume that voters will be gaslit by their protestations of good faith. They hope that Charlie Brown will try to kick that football just one more time.

Democrats must not cooperate. They should instead pull out every bit of leverage they have available, and refuse to cooperate with the rest. They should give no quarter, co-sponsor no bills, and grind as much of the Republican agenda to a halt with every procedural means at their disposal. Republicans have already shown over the years that there is no political price to pay for obstruction, the Democratic base of leftists and people of color will demand nothing less, and the broader American people will reward Democrats for doing what is right, not what is convenient.

The bystanders are not fooled, and it’s time for this co-dependent abusive relationship to end. Enough is enough.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.