Is this the end of the Democratic Party?
"He shredded the truth, so I shredded his speech."
This was Nancy Pelosi's response to scolding criticism of her unceremoniously ripping up a copy of the President's State of the Union address. On the surface, this petty and childish reaction can be seen as a moment of weakness — a sore loser abandoning emotional restraint in the heat of defeat. But to ignore the surrounding context might mean to miss a larger trend of ill fated activity that has engulfed the near and long term fate of the Democratic Party as we know it.
In just the last few days, the attempt to remove the president from office failed in embarrassing fashion, stressing the public's already fatigued tolerance and attention span. An avowed socialist and Democratic outsider with a Trump-esque fan base pulled ahead in primary polling, eliciting fear and backroom conspiring (again) among party insiders, furthering the growing intra-party divide. The long-awaited Iowa caucus, in the gleam of national spotlight, erupted into an unmitigated disaster, reinforcing a narrative of technical incompetence and predictable arrogance. And amid the confusion and disappointment, the president delivered a well timed SOTU address championing low unemployment, rising wages, and recent reforms in criminal justice and school choice, making Democrats' 2020 slogans of doom and gloom appear ridiculous and unproductive. Topping this off, Nancy Pelosi, once thought to be the stoic and undeterred adversary to the president, ripped up her copy of the address, demolishing decades of tradition with a single poorly considered moment.
These circumstances are not so much a string of bad luck as they are a culmination of tragic missteps and miscalculations, aided by a self-righteous reluctance for introspection. The party finds itself being torn apart from two ends — a progressive cult championed by holier-than-thou wokeness on the one end and a wounded establishment of once powerful politicians and technocrats desperately fighting off a slide to irrelevance on the other. Stuck in the middle are the ordinary American voters, who soon might find they have to make a choice between these two weak-minded sparring sides and staying home.
It's not difficult to read between the lines of Trump's view on potential 2020 opponents. He welcomes any candidate from the Far Left, knowing full well he can exploit the deep unpopularity of their socialist branding, calls for government takeovers of industry, and alienating rhetoric of social justice. He fears Joe Biden, and perhaps now Pete Buttigieg (given his recent performance in Iowa — TBD), because they offer centrism and civility absent the progressive quackery — a message that might just resonate with enough of the key voting blocs in swing states across the rural Midwest and Deep South to make a difference.
As Trump's good fortune would have it, the Democrats seem apt to take care of this problem for him by way of self-sabotage. It might not matter who sits on the ticket come November 2020 if the party's leaders, once seen as the steady and cool-handed adults in the room with a manic and uncontrollable president, continue to debase themselves with juvenile and wasteful antics. See, here's the thing: it's pretty difficult to make the case that you present a clear choice when your behavior is no less petty and childish than that of the president you criticize — and, at least last night, far more so.
There need be no reminder of what's at stake for the Democrats in the upcoming election, by both pragmatic and symbolic standards. A defeat at the ballot box would be inevitably followed by an evaporation of any remaining confidence and hope in the party. And with only themselves to blame, you can be sure that the ensuing hostility would result in a circular firing squad, paralyzing any effort for an organized resistance. There would be no chance at resuscitation.
At a time when confidence in democracy is at an all-time low, the demise of the Democratic Party should concern all of us, regardless of political persuasion. American government functions at its best when there exists a strong two-party system, a necessary mechanism for balances of power and healthy tensions between ideas and ideals. For the sake of continuing our American experiment, let's hope the lack of leadership currently on display isn't relegated to the dustbin of history, but replaced by something far more respectable. The country, not just the party, depends on it.