After the November 2018 election, I took a few months off to wonder what it means to be a liberal Democrat in Montana (also to finish my first novel… mission accomplished!). The party is large and while not a monolith it is a group of people with differing views and experiences in politics. Mine align with the left and in a place like Montana that runs against the grain–though I believe there are “leftist” ideas that have cross appeal (more on that in a minute). I understand that what works in Brooklyn does not necessarily translate here. But there are values central to what the party holds dear and, even more urgent today, we are the only party standing up to the hostile takeover of our democracy. Well, at least I had hoped so.
The November election was a needed moment as we finally got a check on imperial power by taking back the people’s house. Republicans, through voter suppression and gamesmanship, managed to hold onto the Senate. In Montana, Tester won by a ton against a complete fraud of a candidate by running an aggressive and strong campaign. Williams came up way short against a very beatable candidate by running a milquetoast and flat one.
The gains in the House demonstrated that people across the country wanted more muscular oversight of the Trump administration and pushback against its policies. Tester, meanwhile, has thanked those of us who worked the streets and editorial pages for him by insulting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents the core of that oversight and pushback, as “flavor of the month.” I have never felt so dismissed by one short phrase. Then after a fiery and amazing floor speech during the shutdown that reminded me of his finest moments, Tester is now on a bipartisan committee that will determine the border issues–most notably the border wall. Tester has said “the wall” will be part of the senate deal. A Pelosi-led house will not put in any money for the wall because representatives understand who put them in office and know they cannot bend. Watching Pelosi take it to Trump is everything I and this nation needs. Why the senate cannot follow her ability to manage her caucus is, as always, puzzling.
I am not sure why I hear Democrat politicians and operatives talking about the border wall like it is just some decoration to be traded away for political favors. Sure, it may be popular in Montana but that is because no one, NO ONE in power and with a voice, seems to understand what represents to people like me. “The Wall” is a powerful symbol of an immigration policy that separates children from their parents and puts them in cages. “The Wall” is a symbol of the alt-right nationalism powering our government and making people like me trying to stand up to them receive anti-Semitic images from Nazi Germany. “The Wall” represents the border patrol agents (who full-throatedly endorsed Tester) who are now acting with impunity and gassing people in a foreign nation. Another officer shot a kid throwing a rock to death and received no punishment for it. The border patrol union, which Tester could publicly rebuke since he has earned their favor, celebrated the decision. It’s out of control and immigration enforcement has shades third world country secret police forces. So if you want to build the wall, fine, but don’t expect me to be part of a party that supports it. It’s not an immigration issue, it’s a human rights issue. It’s about our values as Americans welcoming refugees into safety as we have for centuries. (Oh, and here is an alternative thought: what if the wall is meant to keep us in when law enforcement starts rounding people up?)
There is a man occupying the White House, surrounded by similar minds, who wants to plunder and steal from this country for political gain. The Republican Party has not stood up to him and is completely tethered to a man under investigation for a treasonous act to take power. Yet people are still talking about “bipartisanship” and letting the complicit GOP dominate the framework. I respect the institutions and the Constitution but people need to ask whether they are up to the enormous task at-hand: what do you do with a president installed by a hostile foreign power he colluded with? (Hint: Impeach the Motherfucker.)
When Trump declares a national emergency in the coming days, a naked executive power grab, who will stand up to him? Who will call out the impending dictatorship? The Republicans won’t. But Montana, with its strong history of fighting and eroding corruption, could prove a powerful contrast and voice when this happens. Will any Montana Democrat decry this power grab or is silence going to continue to be acquiescence?
So to answer the question posed initially, Are Montana Democrats Up to This National Moment: I hope so but I have growing doubts. We have the core values and ability to stand up and show unity. We are a collective movement that could save our country. We are one of fifty voices and we can use that voice to call for respect for human rights for all, health care for all, a clean climate for all, and economic justice for all. I prefer that flavor to the future of dictatorship we are currently careening toward.
If the party decides not to stand up for any of those things then what is the point of being a Democrat? Yes I know we have to swing independents and moderate Republicans (and Democrats) to win elections. Could it be that Trump is still popular here because no one is explaining what he is actually doing while in power? Maybe we could try doing that by standing up for a bold vision for Montana and America instead of grumbling about Trump’s high poll numbers in the state, as if those numbers make speaking the truth impossible. Maybe people will pay attention and new voters will turn out if we show courage and don’t apologize or White Paper our issues into irrelevance.
I gave this country eight years of my life wearing its uniform and I spent three years in Iraq. If my purpose is just to knock doors and use my military service to elect people who won’t stand up to the hostile takeover of democracy then our nation is truly doomed. I am a firm believer in speaking truth to power and I wish our leaders and political consultants did too. See how well the death of democracy polls. That’s the real national emergency and we have to act like it is.