David Bromwich, who teaches Humanities at Yale and often writes about politics for the London Review of Books, has an important essay on Donald Trump’s likely political fate in the review’s recent issue (“House-Cleaning,” March 7). After laying out in considerable detail Trump’s corruption and manifold lies, both as a real-estate mogul and as president, Bromwich offers a shrewd assessment of Trump’s appeal and the Democrats’ persistent mistakes. He comes to a sobering, even frightening, conclusion: “Re-election seems just as likely as impeachment. He is fighting for his life, and he would rather sue than settle.”
Bromwich is very much left of center, and I often find his criticism of Democrats like Barack Obama to be strident and unrealistic. But his warnings about the party’s rhetorical excesses are on target. His essay was written before the contretemps surrounding Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitic outbursts. Demands were quickly issued for the House to pass a resolution condemning her remarks. In the end, facing resistance from the black caucus and other progressives, the House passed a resolution condemning all bigotry but not mentioning Omar, who is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. The Democrats, it is widely believed, made a dog’s breakfast of the controversy, revealing how divided they are on many issues.
In his essay, Bromwich describes a conversation he had with a Trump voter at a bar in Nashville. His efforts to persuade his interlocutor of Trump’s malign influence came up against the man’s deeply held disdain for, and suspicion of, Democrats. The Democrats, Bromwich concludes, “have a language problem.” In describing Trump’s faults, failures, and absurdities, they rely on “jargon” and “Greek words like ‘homophobic’ and ‘misogynistic,’ ‘transphobic’ and ‘xenophobic.’” This “abstract language [has] no salt or savor, and no traction in common speech.” Despite Trump’s election, liberal elites remain complacent when it comes to engaging disaffected voters. I would add that the significant gains Democrats made in the House of Representatives last fall are no guarantee of success in 2020. Much of that tidal wave came thanks to Democrats’ efforts to win over anxious suburban voters, not pushing hard to the left in the manner of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.