Democrats: Work With Trump Or Risk Further Disarray


Stewart Lawrence Stewart J. Lawrence is a Washington, D.C.-based public policy analyst who writes frequently on immigration and Latino affairs. He is also founder and managing director of Puentes & Associates, Inc., a bilingual survey research and communications firm.
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It’s time for Democrats to admit without equivocation that they lost the 2016 national election.  Donald Trump, a man they find utterly contemptible, is America’s 45th president.  Barring catastrophe, he likely will occupy the White House for the next four years.

Democrats also need to abandon their self-defeating campaign to polarize the American electorate and to block progress on legislation in the new GOP-dominated Congress.

A recent Harris poll has found that nearly three-quarters of the American public wants the Democrats to work with Trump’s fledgling administration – not to “resist” it.  That’s actually a sobering message for both parties – and for Trump.

It means the public wants the politicians to stop the finger-pointing and to begin working together in a bipartisan fashion to get America’s business done.

For Democrats, the risks associated with continued obstructionism are high.  GOP dominance of American politics now extends to every level and branch of government – from state legislatures and governors’ mansions (32, one short of the number needed to call for a Constitutional Convention) to the White House and soon, very likely, the US Supreme Court.

And the Democrats’ short-term prospects are bleak:  In the 2018 mid-term elections, the Party faces the prospective loss of 10 or more Senate seats in states that Trump won — five of them by double-digits.

But Democrats could actually get back in the game if they decided to work with Trump.  Despite his conservative rhetoric, his governing agenda is not in lockstep with the GOP’s – and they know it.

Trump ran as a Republican, and naturally owes strong allegiance to the GOP.  But he’s no die-hard Republican – and never has been.  Why drive him into the arms of the GOP by refusing to work with him in areas where mutual compromise is clearly possible?

Of course, on hot button issues like abortion and immigration, Democratic base groups, including feminists and Latinos, see Trump as anathema.  The very thought of cooperation — of “normalizing” Trump – is repugnant

But it shouldn’t be.

Take foreign policy.  For all his bombast and apparent Russophilia, Trump’s instincts are decidedly non-interventionist.  Like Obama, and unlike Bush, he clearly eschews the use of U.S. invasion forces to topple oppressive regimes.  Like Obama, he is fond of US special operations forces and clandestine intelligence operators to do America’s military bidding when necessary.

Shorn of its hyper-nationalist sloganeering, “America First” looks a lot like “Smart War,” in fact.

On entitlements, Trump, unlike the GOP, is no big fan of “reform.”  He largely supports the current Social Security system.  In fact, that’s one of the reasons he ran away with the over-55 vote last November.

And unlike most Republicans, Trump has said repeatedly that he supports women’s reproductive health — just not federal monies for abortion.  Planned Parenthood, to its credit, is trying to figure out how to hold Trump to his promise.

On immigration, Trump’s agenda – even the “wall” – shows more continuity with past bipartisan proposals than Democrats care to admit.  Trump rightly cites the 1996 Jordan Commission on Immigration Reform instituted by Bill Clinton as well as 2006 legislation supported by the likes of Obama and Hillary Clinton for inspiration.

Democrats should strike a deal:   Agree to a complete overhaul of the visa system plus expanded border and especially workplace enforcement – the latter, long a missing pillar.  But insist that Trump give the “Dreamers” – the children of illegal immigrants who arrived in the US as children through no fault of their own – a chance to stay.

Trump has already decided not to rescind Obama’s executive order.  It’s an opening, Take it, and try to expand the groups — including the 20-year “long-stayers,” illegals with deep roots in American society – to which it might also apply.

And what of the “wall”?  As Trump well knows, there are sections of the border that will not permit construction of a physical barrier, not even a “fence.” But through a combination of measures, and by drawing Mexico into expanded joint enforcement, outstanding gaps in the current border security system can be filled.

Labor rights is another area for potential cooperation.  The GOP insists on a sweeping “right-to-work” agenda, but Trump is already on record supporting an increase in the minimum wage.  He seems ready to give America’s building trades and other unions a huge role in the repair of America’s crumbling infrastructure — a big-ticket funding item that will yield gains for both parties.

Trump and the Democrats do have areas of disagreement, most obviously Obamacare, but only in principle.  Trump has already come out in opposition to eliminating the law’s most popular features. That’s one reason the White House and the GOP have punted on further action on repeal for now.

Democrats need to get out of denial:  The country has tilted sharply conservative and wants to give Trump a chance to govern.  Working with Trump to fashion the semblance of a policy consensus on key issues might help Democrats become part of an expanded political center.  Over time, it might even help drive a wedge between Trump and much of the GOP.

Displays of defiance and militancy are certainly cathartic for Democrats.  They expected to win last November and they’re still grieving.  But continuing to live in a political fantasy world – the same besetting evil of which they accuse Trump — promises only more disarray.