Don’t let Trump distract, divide his opposition

Gov. Paul LePage’s tenure as a woeful chief executive for Maine should offer some important lessons in how to react to President Donald Trump’s reign.

The first lesson is that we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by outrageous behavior. Yes, we must hold our leaders accountable for their racist ideas, bad manners and half-cocked notions. But the temptation too often is to focus on the men.

Second, we cannot let divisions among progressives divide us.

There are a lot of people who have expressed real disappointment in the election of Tom Perez as Democratic National Committee chairman over U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison. There are Bernie Sanders supporters who say they are prepared to write the Democratic Party off based on this outcome.

Their candidate of choice, Ellison, lost. But immediately after his victory, Perez named Ellison deputy chair as a way to build party unity.

But it’s clear that divisions remain.

Democrats need to leave them behind. The chairman election is not the sort of thing that should divide the party or progressives. I’m not saying, “get over it.” I hope Ellison’s supporters and people dissatisfied with the Democratic Party will continue to work to make our party stronger. That’s the opposite of “getting over it.”

The DNC job is largely administrative. It involves a lot of fundraising along with a hefty dose of local and state party operation-building.

Keith Ellison and Tom Perez speak after the Democratic National Committee elected Perez as chair. Perez named Ellison deputy chair. Chris Berry | Reuters

Keith Ellison and Tom Perez speak after the Democratic National Committee elected Perez as chair. Perez named Ellison deputy chair. Chris Berry | Reuters

In a time of opposition — with Democrats shut out of the White House and Congress — the role of DNC chair might expand. But ultimately, a new crop of leaders will emerge to carry the Democratic standard. That list could include some already big names, like Sanders himself. But it’s unlikely to be Perez or Ellison.

Finally, there remains a lot of bad blood between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Sanders. We need to put it behind us.

Undoubtedly, Sanders brought new energy and new voters into the Democratic Party. His message, his cranky demeanor, his devil-may-care attitude about some political norms was refreshing to a body politic tired of canned messages and caution.

For her part, Clinton built a coalition that ultimately carried her to victory in the Democratic primary in a year of insurgency. The coalition, in fact, helped her to amass nearly three million more votes nationally than Trump.

The second guessing — the “he would’ve,” “she shouldn’t have” — is fruitless. It’s my profound hope that Democrats and other progressives can stop refighting the last war. There simply is no answer to be had about whether Sanders might have done better in the general election than Clinton.

Instead, as we move forward with our opposition to Trump, we must focus on the impact that his policies are having on real people. We must tell the stories of working families who could lose health care, who are divided by draconian and ineffective immigration policies, who are threatened by tax policies that take money away from schools and give them to the wealthy, and who are endangered by policies that target people who live in our communities and whom we all know and love.

For example, Trump’s decision to cancel guidance about transgender students being able to use the appropriate bathroom will hurt real people. Progressives need to lift those voices up and help them to tell their stories.

On the media, it’s also important to recognize two important ideas. We must defend the media from Trump and his efforts to obscure the truth and make facts meaningless. We need them to hold him accountable, to share accurate information and to help the electorate become better informed.

But we also have to be careful not to let Trump use his vendetta against the media to knock real headlines off the front page, as we’ve seen with LePage and some of his choice remarks about reporters and news organizations.

Such attacks are attacks on democracy itself, but the reason they are important isn’t about the newspapers or the reporters. It’s about undermining the ability of voters to get information that’s timely and accurate.

Trump presents a unique threat to democratic norms and to our democracy. We have to match his bravado and outlandish, dangerous behavior with discipline and focus.

Every action progressives undertake should be motivated by two questions: Will this make our country stronger, and will this help us win the next election? In that order.

The ongoing divisions and our susceptibility to distraction only empower Trump and those who would help to enforce his dark vision for our country.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at