After explosive devices were mailed this week to several Democrats who President Trump frequently targets with his rank criticism, liberals will be tempted to call for louder protests or more public confrontations with Republican politicians during the closing weeks of the midterm elections. Trying to beat Trump at his own game would be satisfying in the short term, but it misses a greater opportunity in the long run to slow the national descent into conflict and madness.
The culture wars have been gradually and steadily escalating for years, even before Trump came into office. But the trend has now predictably accelerated under a president who is a disruptor and an instinctive divider. Democrats certainly don't have to look far for examples of Trump's attempts to stoke violence. Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi shared some examples in a joint statement Wednesday.
"Time and time again, the president has condoned physical violence and divided Americans with his words and his actions," they said. "Expressing support for the congressman who body-slammed a reporter, the neo-Nazis who killed a young woman in Charlottesville, his supporters at rallies who get violent with protestors, dictators around the world who murder their own citizens, and referring to the free press as the enemy of the people."
Pointing out Trump's divisive rhetoric against political foes and attacks on the media certainly allows Democrats to pour water on the GOP's new slogan about Republicans creating jobs while Democrats create mobs. And this message might work. But Democrats could be well positioned if they ran on normalcy instead, stepping back from the chaos and confrontation that seems to dominate Trump's America. The president is tweeting angrily and constantly. There are allegations of near-fisticuffs in the West Wing. And now lunatics are taking the hatred that increasingly shapes our politics to the next level, from the congressional baseball practice field to the New York City offices of a cable news network. In the current climate, many tune out the nightly news, unplug social media, and avoid political conversations even with members of their own family.
America has become a country of angry internet commenters. The national conversation has gotten too loud and too ugly. If it can't be beautified, there might at least be broad public support for turning down the volume. So why doesn't somebody try to do just that?
Imagine if some enterprising, earnest Democrat ran on a new theme: Politics doesn't have to be this way.
It's true that the Democratic mood has hardened under Trump. There is a reason that "When they go low, we go high" is no longer in vogue, even among Obama administration alumni. It is viewed as weakness, unilateral disarmament. "Kick them" is fighting back. Certainly, that's the feedback politicians get from their most fervent activists. There is a sense within both parties that their leaders are feeble compromisers who love to lose. Trump won over Republicans by offering an alternative to surrender. Democrats are looking for someone to wave the blue banner, not the white flag.
But Trump imitators in both parties have seldom replicated the success of the real thing. Democrats in particular should be wary of becoming part of the din emanating from Washington. At the very least, this will weaken their case that the Twitter-happy president is the sole cause of the racket.
If there is an untapped silent majority in American politics, it is the millions of normal people of all political persuasions who don't want to live like this. Trump has nothing to offer them. He is not going to change his personality or basic approach to politics at this point.
Someone else could give Americans the peace and quiet they so desperately desire, taking the angry arguments down a notch. There's just one question that remains: Are there any prominent Democrats out there willing to do it?