Donald Trump

Seize the Trumpportunity! President Offers Both Parties Chance to Reinvent Themselves

Democrats and Republicans should treat this new administration as a soul-searching opportunity to return to their principles.


A version of this story ran in the April 2017 issue.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Austin on August 23, 2016.  Patrick Michels

I remember the first time I wrote a letter to John Cornyn, probably 10 years ago. The issue was abortion, and I asked the senator to consider the possibility that women know their own bodies better than the government does. I got a form response thanking me for my input and letting me know that I was wrong about that.

A couple of years later, I traveled to the state Capitol from Dallas with a group from Planned Parenthood, back in those halcyon days before Texas had gone whole-hog on defunding the provider. That day, I talked to state Representative Dan Flynn about my scrape with high-risk HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer, and about the need for affordable reproductive care of the type that Planned Parenthood provides. He thanked me for my input and let me know that I was wrong about that.

It was insulting, of course, to be told over and over again that my lived experience was somehow factually incorrect, but I wasn’t dissuaded. If anything, these run-ins with elected officials made me a keener critic and a better self-advocate.

Donald Trump is now doing for the country what Flynn and Cornyn did for me. The left, which was already sharp thanks to the minor advantage of having reality on its side when it comes to issues like climate change and medical science, is absolutely mopping the floor with the Trump administration. We’re not just talking about what we don’t want; we’re figuring out what we really stand for.

Trump has forced the left to move forward with articulating just what it is we believe about immigration, health care, reproductive rights and racial justice, kick-starting a nascent nationwide movement that brought tens of thousands of people into the streets — and to our airports.

But that reckoning can’t stop once it reaches the political right. Conservatives have an opportunity to pull their party up and away from its multi-decade decline into xenophobia, misogyny and racism, and to develop the political and moral spine needed to stand up to the bully-in-chief. Trump is as much the enemy of people who want streamlined, small government as he is the enemy of us big-gubmint progressives, because he’s the enemy of anybody who wants government to work at any size, period.

If the right, in Texas or anywhere else, wants to stay solvent, they’ll take a page from those of us on the other side of the aisle and treat this new administration as a soul-searching opportunity to return to their principles. It’s clear that Trump isn’t the puppet the GOP establishment hoped he’d be, and that whoever it is he listens to — a couple of white supremacists and, it seems, the talking heads on cable news — it isn’t working out so well. Trump’s approval ratings are abysmal; the GOP’s “replacement” for Obamacare has been panned from all sides. Every few days brings a new embarrassment to that man’s mess of a White House, where they’ve got to be running a pump out of the basement to handle the leaks.

It’s the kind of opportunity for intellectual growth that the right already wasted once. For eight years under Obama, right-wing politicians, often following the rallying cries of Texans like Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, did little more than throw tantrums about Obummer’s policies, make thinly and not-so-thinly veiled racial attacks on the president and his family, and play into abhorrent Islamophobic stereotypes. They weren’t standing for anything; they simply positioned themselves as Club Not-Obama. It worked, sometimes — the 2010 midterms were a tea party rout — but it was a dumb, unsustainable plan that came with a term limit. Trump, a whiny, wholly unprincipled bigot, is the fruit of their lack of labor. He’s the unmitigated id of a movement that spent nearly a decade stomping and moaning instead of rebuilding a coherent, practical political ideology.

The damage that Trump and his GOP lackeys are doing to average folks, and to Americans’ trust in their democracy in general, will take decades to undo. It can be done, but only if it’s done purposefully, thoughtfully and intelligently by proactive, rather than reactive, people in power collaborating for the common good, regardless of whether they’ve got a “D” or “R” next to their name. You sure don’t have to be blue to see that.

This article appears in the April 2017 issue of the Texas Observer. Read more from the issue or become a member now to see our reporting before it’s published online.