If Trump returns, Democrats must stay and fight

Have you heard the joke circulating among Democratic and progressive activists? “If the Republicans win the midterms and Trump wins in 2024, where should we move?”

The choices range from Canada to Costa Rica, or a string of fantasy islands somewhere in a balmy climate. Not only is it unfunny; it’s dangerous.

Like so many political jokes, it’s not so much tongue in cheek as heart sinking into stomach; the use of macabre humor to ameliorate the sense of foreboding. It’s a coping mechanism. So far-fetched is the notion of having to pack our bags in a radically different America that we can laugh at it.

Except that as is the case in all comedy, there’s a nugget of truth to it. Two essays over the July 4 holiday give seriousness to the shtick.

Katherine Stewart‘s “Christian Nationalists Are Excited About What Comes Next” is a chilling look at how the Christian nationalist movement is planning its future and ours. It should, as the lead says, “terrify anyone concerned for the future of constitutional democracy.” Stewart, author of  “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,” reported on last month’s annual “Road to Majority Policy Conference” in Nashville. That road veers dangerously, violently to “a new and more brutal phase of their assault on individual rights and democratic self-governance. Breaking American democracy isn’t an unintended side effect of Christian nationalism. It is the point of the project.”

The conference entertained talk of vigilante justice, “long-arm jurisdiction” to punish out-of-state abortion providers or people who aid and abet an abortion by using a phone, the internet or other medium of communication. More frightening than the audience itself were speakers who cried fire in this cultist-filled theater. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said, “The backlash is coming. Just mount up and ride to the sound to the guns and they are all over this country. It’s time to take this country back.”

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (R-N.C.) told the crowd, “We find ourselves in a pitched battle to literally save this nation, I don’t know about you, but I got my pack on, I got my boots on, I got my helmet on, I’ve got on the whole armor.”

And, of course, former President Trump was the keynote speaker. “The greatest danger to America is the destruction of our nation from the people within,” he said. “And you know the people I’m talking about.” That would be Democrats, who were described during the conference as “evil,” tyrannical” and “the enemy within.”

Which brings me to the second July 4 essay that caught my attention, by conservative columnist Bret Stephens. In “Keep Czars Far Away, in Moscow or Mar-a-Lago,” Stephens reminds us of another stab at gallows humor, which happens to be one of my favorite lines from a scene in “Fiddler on the Roof.” A Jew in the fictitious early 20th century Russian village of Anatevka asks a rabbi if there’s a proper blessing for the czar. The rabbi finds just the right prayer: “May God bless and keep the Czar…far away from us.”

It didn’t work. Ultimately, the czar arrived in the form of Cossacks. The village was purged. The Jews packed and left.

Stephens writes about how recent images from Ukraine remind him of his own forebearers’ attempts to flee the mendacity of Russia’s leaders. That line from “Fiddler” is a reminder, he says, to keep faraway the modern-day czars in authoritarian form; to continue as a “…nation that upholds the rule of law. A nation whose leaders – current or former – can’t just get away with an almost sublime contempt for truth.”

The essays return me to that joke about where we move when Trump returns. It sticks in my throat, reminding me that no matter how secure we may feel, maybe some of us should keep a bag packed — just in case. Perhaps it’s part of the DNA of the displaced. We used to achieve solace in the Constitution. Now people are seeking it in Zillow.

It turns out that it’s a cruel, defeatist joke on those who tell it, a subconscious impulse that when the going gets rough we’re the ones who have to get going. That is anything but funny.

The people of my faith were told to pack and leave England in 1290, France as far back as 1306, Spain in 1492 and Germany in the 1930s (if they were lucky enough to get out). Finally, we arrived in America. The Bill of Rights is our long-term mortgage agreement. And I’m not packing. 

If Christian nationalists, Proud Boys and their ilk want to live under a theocratic model of government, then let them check Zillow. They can start with Tehran, and move on from there: Afghanistan, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia or Yemen seem nice.

Me, I’m not even kidding about leaving. That’s my declaration of independence.

Steve Israel represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives over eight terms and was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now director of the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy Institute of Politics and Global Affairs. Follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael. 

Tags 2024 presidential election Bret Stephens Christian nationalism Mark Robinson Proud Boys Rick Scott Steve Israel Trumpism

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