To Cooperate, Or Not to Cooperate

One of the main questions facing Democratic lawmakers today is whether or not to cooperate with the Trump administration and their Republican colleagues. So far, the answer has been no. But the day may come when the decision is not so easy. Two IndivisibleCT members debate both sides of the issue.

IP is a principal lecturer at Trinity College.
TC is an editor and journalist.

TC– Remember, in the early days after President Obama took office, lamenting Republicans who swore they would not allow Obama a single victory? Remember when they opposed him at every turn, no matter how ludicrous their stance? I sure do. I find myself thinking about it a lot these days. Should we, as Democrats, refuse to work with President Trump the way they refused to work with Obama. Well, yeah… if he keeps giving us garbage to work with, we have no choice but to oppose him at every turn. But opposing the Trump agenda is not the same as refusing to work with all Republicans.

As we saw with the ACA repeal, Democrats need to be able to count on moderate Republicans when it matters. And if we ever hope to have a functioning government again, we’re going to have to learn what people knew up until recently–compromise is at the heart of getting things done in government. Right now, Democrats have a chance to put forth new ideas, make an effort at bipartisanship, and to get things done with the help of moderate Republicans. In other words, they have a chance to show some leadership–but they won’t be able to get anything done if they can’t cooperate (very strategically).

IP — Okay, yes, compromise in theory is great.  But I don’t think compromise these days is possible in the way it should be.  Compromise means, “I give something and you give something,” but to the majority of Republicans, and their voters, it’s only the latter and never the former.  Republicans, even the moderate ones, are tacitly supporting their president, because he has promised to enact the ideas they believe in, which involve supporting big businesses by shafting the rest of us.  Democrats stand for the opposite, so compromise seems impossible.  

Obama’s belief in compromise got him stuck, because he expected that Republicans would work with him, and nearly all of them refused to do so.  We can’t do it his way anymore.  Democrats have to be tougher, and get the word out about what we really stand for.    Republicans know that logic favors us, and they’re afraid of that.  I think the best way for the Democrats to show leadership is to be as open as possible about what they really stand for.  I can’t see a route to cooperation, aside from the bipartisan senate intelligence committee, which I concede is a good example, at least right now,  of the two parties working together.

TC — I completely agree that Democrats have to start being clear about what they stand for. They have to be loud and proud! I don’t, however, think that means they can’t find some common ground with their peers across the aisle. Here’s my main concern about continuing the precedent set by Republicans in the Obama era: Where does it end? To my mind, the Trump victory was, in part, due to a deep dissatisfaction with the way things are in D.C. Gridlock helped get us to where we are today. We can’t keep going like this. Someone has to govern, and the healthcare debacle showed us the Republicans aren’t actually up to the task.

I think there’s a special opportunity right now. Trump, for all his faults, is not particularly beholden to a traditional conservative agenda. If Democrats can find issues — like, say, infrastructure — where they can take the lead, get the President (who has already expressed his desire to put money into this area) behind them, and rally energized activists in traditionally Red states, than enough Republicans — normally opposed to this kind of spending — just may follow suit. Of course, those Democrats will have to be savvy enough to claim the win during the next election — but that’s where being loud and proud comes in.

IP — Ok, Loud and Proud.  And infrastructure, in theory.  But I guess my view of Republicans is that they will support the corporate agenda no matter what.  I am doubting that they will support an infrastructure bill that uses government money to do anything, even though that could be a great thing.  What will their idea of an “infrastructure bill” really be?  I am worried that it would be yet another thing that supports the corporations and the rich, and shafts the rest of us.

Where does it end, you ask? It ends when people understand that initiatives that support corporate interests, like “getting rid of environmental regulations” or “cheaper health care that penalizes sick people,” are not in the national interest.  When they understand that government is not the oppressor, but potentially the tool to build a better society by using money from taxes to pay for initiatives, and regulations, that benefit almost everyone.  I actually think most of the country could potentially get behind that idea if it were spelled out more clearly.   

Republican propaganda encourages people to see government as some kind of evil enemy.  NO!  Regulations protect us.  Government works for us.  We might have to endure gridlock as the only way we can really resist the Trump agenda.

TC — Maybe I should clarify that I don’t think “The Trump Agenda” and “The Republican Agenda” are the same. Working with moderate Republicans to get Democratic wins is not the same as supporting the Trump Agenda.

Of course Democrats can not be complicit in selling our infrastructure to corporations, but big business has had its hands deep in the American system long before Trump. And to some degree, his ability to convince people he wasn’t beholden to corporate interests is how he won. It’s now up to Democrats to put the spotlight on all the ways Trump and Republicans are complicit in that system, and advance an agenda that gets those voters back on their side. But in order to do that, they need to be more than just the opposition party. They need to get some wins–and they may need to do that by cooperating with colleagues from across the aisle.

When I ask, “Where does it end?” what I really mean is, “How do we stop the cycle where we all keep moving further into our corners?” How do we start working together to move things forward incrementally? Progressives cannot get everything they want any more than conservatives can get everything they want. Sooner or later, to have a functioning government, someone has to give a little. And if we can do that in a way that scores us points before the midterms–and make no mistake, if Republicans come out against a job-creating infrastructure bill, that will hurt them–we can take Congress back.

IP —  I agree with you that someone has to give a little to have a functioning government.  But the other side has to give too.  Perhaps the reason why my instinct says, “resist on everything”  is that I don’t see the Republicans, even the moderate ones, as truly willing to cooperate by giving anything.   I worry that by “cooperating” unilaterally the Democrats are going to get steamrolled.  So maybe the crux of our difference is that you have more faith in the moderate Republicans than I do.  We’ll see what happens!

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