When Al Gore emerged from his surprise meeting at Trump Tower earlier last week he suggested the president-elect was a respectable listener and was keeping his mind open on the subject of climate change. There was barely any relief on the left; instead most believe that perhaps Gore was the one who got played.
2 DAYS LATER
Only 48 hours later, Donald Trump confirmed the suspicions many had as he named Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma and a prominent climate-change skeptic, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
The editor Judd Legum of ThinkProgess, the progressive news outlet, posted his analysis of Google searches that showed that the meeting with Gore had gotten substantially more internet attention than the choice of Pruitt who is a favorite with the oil industry to run the new Trump administration’s environmental policies.
Prominent Democrats as well as their allies are in uncharted waters as they look for any opening to persuade Trump not to dismantle every policy they gained under President Obama.
The overtures that they made have been met with continuous and loudly expressed skepticism from progressives. Many on the left oppose any moves that looks as if they are lending legitimacy to a president-elect they view as a fraud and a danger.
SANDERS AND WARREN
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. got scolded from allies when he made the suggestion that there was room to cooperate with Trump on matters of the economy. So did Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
The left already is pushing back and has shifted the tone on Capitol Hill, with some prominent Democrats voicing a more confrontational approach than they did immediately after the election.
TESTING OF WATERS
“Democrats and liberals are genuinely trying to figure out what to do with this president-elect,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton. “Some have tried saying, ‘I am going to work with him on issues I believe in.’ But that kind of testing the waters is getting a lot of pushback.”
ENGAGE WITH TRUMP
Among activists who are progressive, there is both a tactical concern about Trump’s ability to out-maneuver Democrats on certain issues and a broader worry that if their leaders engage with Trump as they would with any other Republican, they will be seen as going along with him: belittling of Mexican immigrants and Muslims, dog whistles to white supremacists, false statements of fact and so on.
“Many on the left are making a moral argument that you can’t disassociate Trump’s economic populism from all the racist and nationalist issues,” Zelizer said. “This is a tension that is not going to go away.”
Some that have been invited to ride the elevator up to Trump’s office in New York have managed to do this without creating a media circus that works in Trump’s favor.
Mayors Bill de Blasio of New York and Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, both Democrats, drew praise from the left for using their time with the President-elect to confront him on issues of immigration as well as to warn that many of the nation’s largest cities would stand up in defiance of his agenda.
LETTER FROM MAYORS
Emanuel delivered a letter from over 15 mayors asking Trump to re-think his plan to put hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children back at risk of deportation.
“These conversations with Trump need to make clear that little if anything can be done together unless he rejects in an open fashion the bigoted agenda he ran on,” said Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America, a progressive advocacy group with more than a million members.
Leaders of the American Bridge super PAC, a multimillion-dollar hub of opposition research and media attacks on the GOP, are also warning Democrats against eagerly engaging.
Even on the infrastructure spending issue, which has broad bipartisan support, Democrats “will have a hard time” collaborating with Trump, warned David Brock, the founder of the group.
“We won’t know how he will benefit from it financially,” Brock said, noting again that Trump’s has refused to allow the public to see his tax returns.
CALL FOR DEFIANCE
The call for defiance is appearing to have had impact. In the days immediately after the election, incoming Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York emphasized areas on which Democrats might be able to cooperate with Trump, notably on infrastructure spending. This week, his emphasis seems to be shift to declaring that the party would be offering Trump no assistance in finding a replacement for Obamacare.
If the Republicans dismantle the health care law, he told the Washington Post, the GOP will own the problem.
“Democrats will not then step up to the plate … with a half-baked solution that we will partially own,” he said. “It’s all theirs.”
As for Gore, look for him to take a sharper tone in his next meeting with Trump – if there is one.
DON’T BE SUCKER
“The first rule of engaging with Trump is don’t be a sucker,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “Democrats need to remember that Trump will enter office as the most unpopular president in modern history. It shouldn’t be that difficult a landscape to navigate. After all, he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes.
“Trump is trying to position himself as a populist and govern as plutocrat,” he said. “It is up to Democrats to not let him get away with it.”