I saw a post linked on Twitter the other day about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Education Secretary. Like everyone chosen for Trump’s cabinet, there’s a long list of reasons to loathe her, although I’d say she’s basically a normal conservative pick, as these things go, unlike Sessions, who’s far more horrifying than any likely AG pick we might have seen from Jeb or Rubio. (Probably. I mean, you never know.)
But, she also provides a good example of something I want to encourage people to think about.
Hopefully you’ve seen the Indivisible guide (if not, you can download it here), which talks about harnessing some of the tactics used by conservatives against Obama to resist the GOP agenda. They talk about calling your Representative and your Senators, and beyond that, finding out about town hall meetings and other opportunities to show up and make things difficult.
If you have Democratic representation (like me: I’m represented by Betty McCollum in the House, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken in the Senate) you want to encourage them to stand firm. They’re less likely to cave if they know their constituents are on their side. Especially if you know the other side is mobilizing to pressure them, call and say thank you. Let them know you have their back. Show up at their town hall meetings and be the opposite of difficult. Etc.
If you have Republican representation, though, the goal is to get them to break with their party, at least some of the time. The thing is, this really will be more successful when you can frame the issue in a way that has the potential to make them look bad to their base, and not just the Democrats. I mean, they already look bad to Democrats and they don’t, generally, care. “I want you to support Planned Parenthood because women should have the right to choose” is not going to sway someone who campaigned on an anti-abortion platform. “Your plan to refuse to let Planned Parenthood provide non-abortion-related health services will cost the Federal government $130 million. Whose taxes will be raised to cover this extra cost?” is the sort of question that might make them sweat.
So that’s my first point: when possible, find ways to frame things that threatens to make your Republican representatives look bad to their supporters. (I’m not saying you should give up on pressuring them when you can’t do that. But when you CAN, embrace it.)
My second point, though, is that you need to follow one additional rule: do not beat up on an already-marginalized group. Especially a group that’s being attacked by the Trump administration already. Do not go after Republicans by demonizing trans people. Or Muslims. Or immigrants. Find another option.
Back to Betsy DeVos. She’s a proponent of vouchers — giving public money to religious schools. Most voucher proponents imagine children attending Christian schools of one sort or another on the public dime, with maybe the occasional Jewish school for variety. They are not picturing Muslim schools receiving public money, but in fact, there are some Muslim schools around doing just that through voucher programs.
Loudly pointing that out, however, breaks that second rule. The last thing Muslim-Americans need right now is Democrats shouting at Senate hearings about the lurking danger of Madrassas. (Fun fact: “madrassa” is just the Arabic word for “school.” I heard a radio piece some years back by an American woman who’d taught somewhere like Jordan and had been really taken aback when she heard people referring to madrassas in tones of horror and hatred. Imagine hearing people saying school the way you hear people say madrassa and you’ll probably get the picture.)
Also, there is a terrific alternate bogeyman out there. They don’t have any schools right now but if Trump starts trying to push voucher programs nationwide I bet they would be overjoyed to set one up. After all, they crowdfunded an awesome statue and started a lovely afterschool program a year or so back… I am referring, of course, to the Satanic Temple.
As far as I can tell, the Satanic Temple was started more or less for the purpose of demonstrating to pushy Christians why “separation of Church and State” is in their interests, as well. So demonizing them (heh) is not only fair game but something I expect they would embrace wholeheartedly. Especially if you promise to donate to the project if they do start crowdfunding a school. (I bet it would be an awesome school.)
“Senator Johnson, why did you vote to confirm Betsy DeVos, who supports giving taxpayer dollars to schools run by Satanists?” (Pause to allow him briefly to yammer about parent choice, but don’t give up mic.) “But you didn’t answer my question about Satanists, Senator. Why do you support giving taxpayer dollars to Satanic schools?”
There are plenty of other topics which I think may turn out to be less partisan than Paul Ryan assumes – Medicare, the ACA (my sympathy for the people who are dependent on the ACA but voted for Trump is limited, but I’m all for mobilizing them whenever we can), banking regulations.
But there’s another benefit to this sort of triangulation that’s worth thinking about. The Republican coalition has held together as long as it has because it’s been a long time since they’ve tried to accomplish anything. In addition to blocking the Trump agenda at every opportunity, I think our broader goal should be to burn down the Big Tent. Turn Republicans against Republicans at every opportunity. The Republican party has shown itself willing to lie, cheat, and obstruct. They’re willing to give aid and comfort and alliance to literal Nazis. They’re willing to side with a Russian dictator against American democracy. These are not the actions of good and decent people who care about America. That’s a political party that cares about nothing but power. That’s a party that needs to go.
The ultimate purpose of triangulation is to turn your opponents against each other. Turn Republicans against Republicans and get out of the way. If the Big Tent is burning, evacuate the vulnerable but do not get a fire extinguisher. (I mean that metaphorically, to be clear. Obviously if you’ve, say, decided to visit a Republican gathering to encourage productive discourse, and a literal fire gets started while you’re there, grab an extinguisher and put it out. Literal fires are super dangerous!)