As the saying goes, when people show you who they are, believe them. But the Republican political leadership has repeatedly refused to accept the evidence that President Trump is wildly unfit for office. The swift bipartisan condemnation after his shocking Helsinki press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested for a brief moment that maybe this time would be different. Maybe his televised embrace of a dictator who has attacked our democracy would finally be the tipping point, sufficient to push even Trump’s staunchest defenders over the edge.
Concerned citizens and pundits asked if perhaps now the Republican leadership would finally say, enough is enough. Supreme Court seats and lower taxes for the rich aren’t actually worth risking our national security and soul.
But, like Trump, the Republican Congress has already shown us who they are. Americans are to blame if we don’t believe them.
As the dust settles after Helsinki, this too has become clear: There is no line Trump can cross that will spur meaningful Republican action against him. Democrats in Congress have turned up the volume on their urgent calls for hearings, investigations and answers, but Republicans continue to feign helplessness. Sure, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and others are proposing resolutions to reaffirm support for the intelligence community, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has suggested tougher sanctions legislation, but none of the proposed Republican actions will address the real national security threat: this president.
Our democracy is in danger, but not yet lost.
Flipping Congress is our last hope, and we must use Helsinki as a rallying cry to turn outrage into real and massive civic action.
I resigned my position as a U.S. diplomat in December, realizing that I could no longer effectively promote U.S. interests and values as part of this administration. Since then, I’ve concluded that the most important thing I can do to uphold my oath to defend our Constitution is to help flip seats in November. Only with Democrats in power will Congress finally use its critical oversight role to expose and hold to account this compromised president.
After several weeks working on a Democratic primary campaign in Virginia, however, I realized that a blue wave is far from guaranteed.
The signs at first were reassuring. Membership in local Democratic Party chapters had tripled. New grassroots political organizations were active in the community. I met dozens of people voting for the first time, including 18-year-olds enthusiastic about an opportunity to participate. I met others who were first-time campaign volunteers like me.
But when the polls came to a close in the Virginia 7th on June 12, I was shocked to find that, despite heightened levels of activism and engagement, the participation rate was still a paltry 5%, little improved from primaries of the past.
Anecdotal though this may be, it was eye-opening, and I walked away worried that those opposed to Trump are not yet mobilized sufficiently to win in November.
Even after Helsinki, 71% of Republicans still approve of Trump’s handling of Russia. More than half of our population does not, but that isn’t enough. Trump retains visceral support from a motivated part of the population — and possibly the help of a foreign power. Republican incumbents will also benefit from gerrymandering, so we must fight harder.
Was Trump’s performance in Helsinki really any different from what we’ve been watching all along? In truth, it was not. But if watching Trump stand shoulder to shoulder with Putin provided the motivation we need to drive more people to action, then I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful the second generation of “adults in the room” failed to persuade Trump to water down his rhetoric into something more wishy-washy and vaguely defensible. I’m grateful that Trump’s backpedaling 24 hours later was so patently absurd that no one in his or her right mind could possibly buy it.
Our democracy is in danger, but not yet lost. Don’t be like Congress, wringing your hands and acting helpless. Take action. If you haven’t participated in a campaign, find your candidate and volunteer. If you live in a solid Democratic area, go to a district that’s up for grabs. If you have the means to donate, give money. Throw fundraisers. Write letters to the editor. Shame your friends and family into participating. Be informed. Know the issues. Join the fight.
Don’t doubt whether your individual vote matters. Amplify your voice and make sure that it does. Because if we do not use the tools available to us — our political speech and vote — then we too are complicit in our downfall as a nation. After November will be too late.
Elizabeth Shackelford was a U.S. diplomat until December 2017 when she resigned in protest of the administration. She served in Somalia, South Sudan, Poland and Washington, D.C.