Loss Leaders

There is a vintage Odd Couple episode in which uber-neatnik Felix Unger, desperately trying to woo back his beloved ex-wife, concocts a scheme to prove his newfound flexibility by emulating Oscar Madison, his slob supreme of a roommate. Felix attempts to generate just the slightest bit of sloppiness. He finds himself utterly incapable of even the most minute gesture in that direction, unable to toss a napkin on the floor, to disturb the pristine order of his apartment—anything, really. He lacks the template to change this aspect of his behavior.

And so it is with the Democratic Party. They simply do not possess the template to operate as a bona fide opposition party.

Conspiracy theories are part and parcel of the American fabric. Were I to cultivate my own pet conspiracy theory, it would be this: That the Democratic Party is in cahoots with the Republican Party, that their opposition—true opposition—is a sham.

The big issue with conspiracy theories—besides the fact that conspiracy theories are the domain of wingnuts, many of them armed—is that political transgressions here in the USA are of the non-secretive, in-your-face variety. The Democratic Party’s endless acquiescence to the Republicans is in no way a conspiracy: It is on display for all to see. But if it is not a conspiracy, there is also something far from arbitrary about the party’s behavior.

Trump is mentally incompetent. This is glaringly obvious. It doesn’t require much in the way of conjecture. His speeches are incoherent, full of lunatic claims. Some of his assertions are of the bizarro sexual variety, such as his oft-repeated assertion that migrant women are duct-taped. He often compares his crowd size to that of Elton John concerts. He knows next to nothing and seems to be functionally illiterate.

Yet Trump–somehow–bests the Democrats again and again. No powerful, entrenched political entity like the Democratic Party is that inept or passive. The Democrats are quite capable of overseeing massive incarceration, gutting social welfare programs, wreaking havoc in Libya. They are unafraid to castigate “welfare mothers” for their (supposedly) parasitic behavior. Barack Obama instituted a domestic surveillance system that would have done Richard Nixon proud. He deported millions.

The Democrats are not credulous Charlie Browns, doomed by their own naïve faith in the goodness of humanity to be forever hoodwinked by unscrupulous Lucys.

What then, is the Democratic response to the unhinged dolt that is Donald Trump? Conventional party wisdom is that he will be, because of our robust economy, a formidable opponent. It’s hard to think of a nicer accolade. There is probably nothing Trump would like to see more than the perception of his formidability, as opposed to what he really is: A corpulent, pampered rich boy with funny hair who’s prone to hissy fits. The economy, though, is not robust. It is the opposite of robust. This is a desperately poor country. That assertion requires no research, no consultation of position papers. All one has to do is, quite simply, look around. Houses are dilapidated. Pawn shops are to be found all over the place. So are check-cashing outlets. Homeless people can be easily seen in the cities. This country’s poverty is visible. This too is not conjecture.

When the Democratic Party isn’t busy praising George H.W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney (or voting to fund the wall and extend the Patriot Act), they are attacking Trump. The nature of this attack, though, equals anything hatched up by the nutty John Birch Society: Trump is a stooge—a traitor, even—in what is a vast, nefarious Russian plot.

And then there is the ostensible reason for the quixotic, doomed impeachment trial: A Ukrainian arms deal. It is hard to believe that there is an honest expectation on the part of the Democrats that these, of all things, will resonate with the voting public. Democratic Party tactics are akin to planned obsolescence.

The party is absolutely complicit in this endless Republican rampage. No amount of fulminating against Ralph Nader, Jill Stein, or “Bernie bros” will mitigate this.

Felix Unger is, of course, a fictional character. And The Odd Couple is a comedy. What the Democrats are doing is all too real. It is not a comedy, but a tragedy. And a crime.