Donald Trump Rally 10/21/16
Michael Candelori/Flickr

Never Trumper George Conway has published a wonderfully ironic piece in the Washington Post titled, “I Believe the President, Now More Than Ever.” Filled with links to things Trump has actually said and done, it encapsulates the breadth of lies, cruelty, criminality, and incompetence one has to accept in order to continue to support this president. 

We’ve now lived for four years with the reality that Trump could shoot someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue and many of his supporters wouldn’t abandon him. We must rid ourselves of the idea that there is any argument that would change their minds. Even more importantly, there is nothing Trump could say or do that would cause them to abandon him.

Early in Trump’s presidency, Adam Gopnik wrote of the importance of distinguishing between toxic enemies and honest opponents. Using his formulation, those who continue to support and enable Trump are “toxic enemies.” When it comes to Congressional Republicans, they are the ones Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat, said would be tied to this president “with a cord of steel and for all of history.” The Lincoln Project suggested that we should remember their names and never—ever—trust them again. 

While Republican officeholders enable this president in order to retain power, the same cannot be said of voters who continue to support him. At best, we must question their judgement and discernment. As we watch them swallow the lies spread about Joe Biden, it is clear that their mindless loyalty won’t go away should the former vice president win. For them, he is a corrupt politician who threatens their way of life. 

Not all Republicans have shown themselves to be toxic enemies. There are those, like Republican Voters Against Trump, who have spoken out against the lies, cruelty, criminality, and incompetence. For many of them, it was the toxicity of this president and his supporters that finally opened their eyes to the dangerous path the Republican Party had taken.

They are the ones Gopnik was talking about when he referred to “honest opponents.” While it is useless to attempt to reason with a toxic enemy, it is possible to have a conversation with an honest opponent. Common ground might not abound, but at least there is the possibility of respectful discourse based in reality. That is the group Joe Biden was talking about in an ad that sums up his closing argument.

The spot ends with narrator Sam Elliot saying, “Joe Biden doesn’t need everyone in this country to always agree, just to agree that we all love this country…and go from there.”

This delineation is helpful to keep in mind for several reasons. On a personal level, it is important to distinguish toxic enemies from honest opponents among friends, family, and coworkers. The only ones worth engaging in a political discussion are the latter.

There aren’t any honest opponents among Congressional Republicans. Eight years of total obstruction followed by an unwillingness to hold the most corrupt president in this country’s history accountable has made that clear. The GOP has revealed itself to be toxic. 

Former President Barack Obama discussed  this toxicity during an appearance on “Pod Save America” and the fact that it has made governing impossible. How should Democrats respond?

What I have concluded, is that the answer is to change some of these structural impediments to just getting stuff done…I think that if you continue to see the kind of systematic rejection of even reasonable compromise there, there comes a point at which you just have to change how the system works. The filibuster would be one.

Dealing with those obstacles to governing is now particularly urgent. To continue with the status quo is to invite further contamination. It’s time to clean things up, perhaps with the support of some honest opponents.

Of course, there will be those in the media who, through their lens of bothsiderism, suggest that any structural changes proposed by Democrats—such as ending the filibuster or court reforms—are simply a partisan power grab. But that will demonstrate their inability (or unwillingness) to grasp the realities of our current political climate. As Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein wrote eight years ago, “a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality.” 

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Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.