As a new poll from SurveyMonkey shows, Donald J. Trump will loom over Thanksgiving tables this year to a remarkable extent; his name is far more likely to spark arguments than any other topic, public or private. And for liberals, such arguments will serve as a reminder that there is no moment, however sacred, that the 45th president cannot spoil with his vengeful, glowering presence, so much like a nightmare the morning light cannot dispel.
Last Thanksgiving Day the shock of Trump’s election was too fresh to be fully absorbed. But now, a year later, the reality of President Trump is with us like an endless nagging headache that periodically flares into a life-threatening stab of pain. So when his name inevitably comes up at the Thanksgiving table or at postprandial gatherings of families and friends, it will be a good time for left-of-center Americans to count their blessings. I offer some comforting thoughts about things for which we should be thankful, in no particular order:
1. The U.S. Constitution endures. Yes, conservatives sometimes act as though the First Amendment is strictly about letting tax-exempt churches and their affiliates do whatever they want; that the Second Amendment is the only other significant element of the Bill of Rights; and that the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments aren’t really valid because the Founders weren’t around. But the Constitution does provide major hurdles against would-be tyrants, which is why the president spends so much time raging against the federal judges who enforce it.
2. Obamacare lives. A year ago I would have bet the farm, had I owned one, that the Republicans who controlled the White House and Congress would have repealed the Affordable Care Act by now. They had the congressional majorities, the means (the budget process, making enactment of legislation by a simple majority possible), and the motive (years and years of fiery promises to dismantle the 44th president’s great legacy) to get it done. But it turns out they didn’t have the unity in the U.S. Senate, or the ability to persuade the public that going back to the days when insurers walked tall and citizens had no protections beyond their own wealth was a good idea.
3. Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges are still the law of the land. Trump would not have become president had he not convinced conservative evangelical leaders that even though he might not share their faith, he shared their determination to make reproductive rights and marriage equality things of the past. With Neil Gorsuch, he got halfway to a Supreme Court that would likely reverse or significantly modify Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood and turn back the clock to 1973, and perhaps repeal or at least curtail LGBTQ rights. But he remains a Justice short, so liberals should combine thanks for that fragile reality with prayers and best wishes for the health of 84-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 79-year-old Stephen Breyer.
4. The 2017 elections represented a liberal comeback. While the fairly steady Democratic vote gains in the special elections of 2017 could be dismissed as no more than moral victories so long as they didn’t produce actual takeovers of congressional or statewide offices, November 7, 2017, was an unambiguous anti-Trump triumph. It came complete with the kind of suburban wins and Democratic “base” turnout patterns that augur very well for Donkey Party prospects in 2018.
5. The 2018 elections represent liberal hope. Taking back the U.S. House (much less the Senate) remains a tough challenge for Democrats in 2018, but one that looks more realistic every day. So long as Trump’s approval ratings remain underwater, Democrats have a big advantage in the congressional generic ballot, and the anti-Trump young and minority voters who normally sit out midterms remain energized, then at a minimum the 2018 elections should reduce the GOP’s margin of control in the House to a sliver that makes governing even more difficult than before, and with some luck will give Paul Ryan’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi.
6. There’s a competitive Senate race in Alabama. A whole series of incidents from a corrupt-looking appointment of a temporary Republican senator to a vicious primary culminating in the nomination of the highly controversial extremist Roy Moore to revelations that the self-same Moore used to troll for (and perhaps assault) teenage girls when he was a 30-something prosecutor, have all combined to make Democrat Doug Jones an even bet to be elected in Alabama next month. The very possibility is playing havoc with Senate Republicans’ tax bill and year-end spending bill. And a Jones win would open up a path to the once-remote possibility of a Democratic takeover of the Senate in 2018. If that were to happen, all of the right’s ambitions for flooding the judiciary with right-wing Trump appointees could come to a screeching halt.
7. Robert Mueller. Whether or not the special counsel investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 election finds evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign, and/or finds reason to chase significant figures in the president’s entourage toward the hoosegow, his proceedings represent if nothing else a reminder that this president is not yet above the law. Beyond that, the slow unfolding of the Mueller investigation and the steadily climbing number of indictments mean that liberals aren’t the only ones with reasons to dread the future.
8. The Reckoning. Yes, the current firestorm over sexual harassment and assault in government and media is creating some difficult questions and some painful repercussions for liberal as well as conservative leaders. But in the end, like the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas controversy over a quarter-century ago, the sudden defenestration of powerful men caught acting very badly will likely represent a step forward toward workplaces where actual work is valued and abuses are no longer tolerated. And as a bonus, every time a sexual predator is disgraced he may well be replaced by a talented woman previously denied a fair chance at advancement. Nancy Pelosi isn’t the only woman who may get a promotion in 2018.
9. William T. Barber II. The North Carolina clergyman and leader of “Moral Mondays” protests against right-wing dominance of his state is a living reminder that Jerry Falwell Jr. is not the exclusive face of American Christianity.
10. Memories of 2016 will eventually fade. As we approach the 2020 elections and the possibility of an orderly end to the Trump Era (barring the very long odds against its being more abruptly ended by resignation or impeachment), memories of that traumatic night in 2016 when it began will slowly fade, and psychic wounds will slowly heal. It is even possible that by next Thanksgiving fights between liberals over the Clinton–Sanders nominating contest can begin to wind down. For that I would be profoundly thankful.
There are many other things liberals can be thankful for, of course, including many blessings that have nothing to do with politics. But as the arguments over Trump inevitably erupt this Thanksgiving, liberals should finally begin to transcend the rage and fear and look forward to a better day with some confidence.