One of the big questions I’ll be addressing on White House Watch is whether Donald Trump is the symptom or the disease.
If he’s the disease, then when he goes away, everything will be fine again. Our constitutional democracy will right itself, and we’ll be on our way.
But if he’s the symptom, then even when he’s gone, the disease is still with us.
Hillary Clinton weighs in today with an important essay in the Atlantic, an excerpt from the new afterword to her book “What Happened”.
And while much of the media coverage is boiling it down to “Hillary Clinton Slams Trump,” Clinton takes the darker view: that Trump, “despicable” as his actions are, is the result of something even worse.
“[O]ur democratic institutions and traditions are under siege,” she writes. “[T]he assault on our democracy didn’t start with his election. He is as much a symptom as a cause of what ails us.”
Yes, she leads off with a very useful summary of Trump’s most recent examples of “unspeakable cruelty” and “monstrous neglect.” Then she lists Trump’s five main assaults on our democracy: on the rule of law, on the legitimacy of elections; on truth and reason; on ethics; and on “the national unity that makes democracy possible.”
But the heart of her essay blames democracy’s biggest challenges not on Trump but on the Koch Brothers and their ilk:
Over many years, our defenses were worn down by a small group of right-wing billionaires—people like the Mercer family and Charles and David Koch—who spent a lot of time and money building an alternative reality where science is denied, lies masquerade as truth, and paranoia flourishes.
And the GOP in general:
The increasing radicalism and irresponsibility of the Republican Party, including decades of demeaning government, demonizing Democrats, and debasing norms, is what gave us Donald Trump.
Clinton, like an increasing number of political scientists, argues that getting rid of Trump is only the beginning. And although her top priority is, not surprisingly, “massive turnout in the 2018 midterms,” she outlines a broad reform agenda.
When the dust settles, we have to do some serious housecleaning. After Watergate, Congress passed a whole slew of reforms in response to Richard Nixon’s abuses of power. After Trump, we’re going to need a similar process.
That includes ethics requirements for the president, voting reforms – including campaign finance reform and the abolition of the Electoral College – and “restitch[ing] our fraying social fabric and rekindle our civic spirit.”
Clinton’s proposed solutions are remarkably vague and they feel, at least for the moment, beyond our grasp. But along with Protect Democracy’s legislative blueprint called “Roadmap for Renewal,” they provide a solid jumping-off point for some serious and urgent national conversations about the anti-authoritarian, democracy-bolstering agenda the country needs after a presidency that has shown us, as Clinton writes, “[h]ow fragile our experiment in self-government is.”