This past week, the country tumbled further into fascism, argued Joshua Shanes, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston, as the Republican party completely bowed to violent authoritarianism, driven by the right wing.
Previously, a Twitter writer had posted an observation that I think is true. A disastrous president like Trump is only possible with three conditions: an ineffective political press, a Senate majority leader like McConnell, and a House speaker like Pelosi.
On the first condition, I’ve suggested that Trump’s advantage in public opinion on economic management is largely driven by corporate-owned media that broadcasts incomplete social metrics like the national unemployment rate and the taxpayer-funding-juiced stock market.
On the second condition, I’m fascinated by how companies like Charles Schwab, Anheuser-Busch, and Chambers of Commerce can operate in communities while leading contributions to the obstructionist Republican Senate, which only cares about tax cuts for the wealthy and unqualified conservative judges.
And on Speaker Pelosi, the nation is seeing the effects of her ultimate strategy of banking all opposition on the November election—not heeding the constitutional experts, government ethics watchdogs, and numerous progressive groups who had been urging the House Democrats to conduct vigorous oversight in 2019. For example, as early as March 1, 2019: “Richard Neal’s announcement of a plan to issue a request letter for Trump’s tax returns comes distressingly late — and projects to be vastly too modest in scope.”
It’s possible that, after the tremendous lift of the 2018 midterms, an aggressive multi-committee investigation starting in the House in early 2019 would have surfaced far more serious charges for impeachment than the narrow Ukraine issue. Observers largely agree that Speaker Pelosi’s leadership’s strategy is to let crises build this Fall to the election instead of changing House rules and issuing subpoenas to administration officials—for example, see Pelosi’s decisions to not keep the House in session for bailout oversight.
There’s no definitive way to run political hypotheticals, but if we repeated the past two years 1,000 times, how many times would a different House Democratic leadership have succeeded in blocking the worst overreaches of Trump through oversight, or in convincing Republican Sens. Collins, Gardner & Murkowski to vote for Trump’s removal? I think if the odds are more than one in three, then new leadership is clearly needed in the next Congress. Maybe the core constitutional safeguards were there, but ineffectively deployed.
There’s a whole world of effective, enervating opposition and political creativity that House Democrats could cultivate under different leadership. Here’s one example of the sheer, encompassing transformative potential of new leadership. In the 2016–2017 NBA season, the Milwaukee Bucks under head coach Jason Kidd had a net rating of 17th out of 30 teams in the league, with a 13th-ranked offense and a 20th-ranked defense. The Bucks’ star player Giannis Antetokounmpo was developing into a force on both ends of the court, but the team was barely above average.
In 2017–2018 NBA Season, with Kidd facing a barrage of “#fireKidd” criticism from an active and beyond-fed-up fan base, the Bucks took a step backwards in net rating: 20th out of 30 teams in the league, with a 9th-ranked offense but a 19th-ranked defense. The team still made it to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, where they lost in the first round to the Boston Celtics in a 7-game series. Kidd’s signature complex, over-helping, aggressive defensive scheme continued to be exploited by opponents. It’s notoriously difficult to remove an ineffective head coach when he’s supported by the team’s billionaire owners, as Kidd had been.
But on January 22, 2018, Kidd was relieved of his responsibilities, and at the end of the season, Mike Budenholzer, viewed as the best available candidate, was announced as the next head coach. The 2018–2019 Bucks vaulted up to the top net rating in the league, a total transformation into the number one defense and fourth-ranked offense, and the team lost 4–2 in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Toronto Raptors. In the interrupted 2019–2020 season, the Bucks were again significantly ahead in net rating, with a long-neglected downtown area revitalized by the team’s success—though at the hefty cost of some $800 million in public funding, in a state beset by austerity, while the owners will certainly profit on their $500 million arena investment. Coach Bud, leading the team to a top record, was awarded Coach Of the Year.
Much as the Bucks took the lead in the wildcat strike for justice for Jacob Blake, shot by Kenosha police, more responsive and urgent political action is possible the in committees chaired by House Democrats who owe their continued leadership roles to Pelosi and the DCCC machine, which battles progressives and their agendas—even policies that are proving to be popular with targeted voters.
Speaker Pelosi said she intends to step down as speaker by 2022, in the deal she made to secure votes after the 2018 midterms, but the start of the 117th U.S. Congress next year (at least, as expected) will open up an opportunity for a progressive to challenge her old-guard leadership team. Who will be the House’s Coach Bud and take advantage of younger Democratic members’ potential for dynamic leadership.