It’s the handcuffs, stupid.
I’m no political strategist, no James Carville or Karl Rove. But after resounding boos for President Trump and then Tuesday’s election — which brought epochal regime changes in the commonwealths of Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania — it seems pretty clear that the priority of the American people is not coal or “Medicare for all” or Ukraine or even tall tales of the deep state.
Americans want Trump. Out. Now.
Who can blame us? After three years, we’re just plain tired of a smug criminal ravaging our country for personal gain.
Granted, there are holdouts. Twenty-six percent of heart-eyed Americans believe Trump is so far superior to the rest of us that he shouldn’t even have to comply with subpoenas.
But if you don’t quite believe Trump is above the law, you’re likely among the 44% solidly in favor of impeachment. Odds are good you even want him removed from office. And, yes, you might also crave handcuffs.
In May, the brightest lawyers in the nation put it this way: “The conduct of President Trump ... would, in the case of any other person ... result in multiple felony charges.”
On Sunday, the crudest protesters outside an Ultimate Fighting Championship event in Manhattan gave this their own spin: “Headlock him up.”
So “lock him up” isn’t the height of courtesy. It’s a little redhat, I get that. Civilized people, when sober, definitely shouldn’t chant it. But by gum, Trump should be locked — I mean, impeached, given a fair trial in the Senate, and swiftly removed from office.
On Monday night, Trump visited Lexington, Ky., to plead with voters there to reelect the incumbent Republican Gov. Matthew Bevin. Outside the rally, he was confronted yet again by our new national anthem: “Lock him up.”
Possibly shaken by the now familiar chorus, Trump confessed to the faithful that if Kentucky went for the Democrat he’d take it hard. It would send a “bad message.” “They are going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can’t let that happen to me!”
But happen it did.
The Lexington district in which Trump held his Monday rally voted 2 to 1 for the Democrat Andy Beshear on Tuesday. Beshear declared victory; Bevin, citing nonspecific “irregularities,” demanded a recanvassing of the vote.
The “bad message” Trump worried about? Yeah, even as Kentucky Republicans won down-ballot state contests, that message was sent and received. A state that went great guns for Trump in 2016 has its share of lock-him-uppers, and a lot of them went to the polls.
The two formidable Kentucky senators who showed up with Trump to stump for Bevin — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and lapsed libertarian Rand Paul — have some serious soul-searching ahead of them. If McConnell’s support for Trump softens, it could give other Senate Republicans cover and change the calculus in an impeachment trial.
Across the border in Virginia, the commonwealth is blue for the first time in decades. Democrats took both chambers of the Legislature, and now control the state’s whole political apparatus. Virginia is leaning toward strikingly progressive legislation on gun control and might even deliver the 38th required state ratification to push the Equal Rights Amendment into law.
So the elections in Virginia also sent the president, who’s bugged by gun control and of course women, what he might call a “bad message.”
And then there’s Pennsylvania.
Since the 2018 midterm election, political analysts have observed that Trump’s support is eroding in suburbs long considered Republican strongholds. These are not neighborhoods where residents shout about headlocks. But they evidently are places where voters are willing to break with tradition and vote against Trump’s party. Philadelphia-adjacent Delaware County fell entirely to Democrats, who now control the county council for the first time since the Civil War.
Trump has likened himself many times to Abraham Lincoln — OK, boomer — but it seems some party-of-Lincoln stalwarts aren’t buying it.
As Democrats wring their hands over fine points of policy, they’re also unaccountably shushing the “Lock him up” chants.
Of course, Democratic candidates should go high with classy slogans (as Elizabeth Warren did when she tamped down her more boisterous fans last month in Carson City, Nev.). But the people’s passion for justice is not going away.
“When we have faced down impossible odds,” candidate Barack Obama said in 2008, “when we’ve been told we’re not ready or that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people.”
His sweet, signature version? “Yes, we can.” And it was perfect. In 2008.
Today, Americans facing impossible odds also chant three monosyllables. But it’s a rough, rude call to obey the rule of law. Whether the Democratic establishment will admit it or not, it’s a creed that also sums up the spirit of a people. Lock. Him. Up.