Debbie Dingell, Donald Trump, John Dingell — February 10, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Some measured optimism for the Trump Era from the great John Dingell


“He’s going to be amazed with what he can’t get away with. And you will too.”

Institutions are all that Americans can rely on now to protect us from Trump’s sleep-starved, anti-democratic impulses. And John Dingell is an institution.

That’s the thesis of my argument in USA Today that my former representative in Congress should be named to give the official Democratic response to Donald Trump’s tweets — all of them.

The idea that building up the pillars of our democracy — the “virtues of liberal democratic governance,” as Greg Sargent calls them — can help us withstand a populist from trafficking in racism and backed by the right’s Kochtupus of billionaire donors and fronted by a demagogue with no sense or respect for the history of America’s aspirations may be naive.

Paul Krugman argues that our institutions are “only as good as the people who serve them” and rightly has little faith they’ll do much good in the face of another 9/11-like attack, based on what we’ve seen from our Republican Congress.

But a federal appeals court’s unanimous continuance of the temporary stay on Trump’s religious ban — call it a religious ban that so all those people who argued that paying someone to bake a cake would end religious liberty get what they’re backing — gave me some new hope. As did the slight push-back Kellyanne Conway got for using the White House as the Trump family’s QVC from the shameless yet evasive partisan who leads the House Oversight Committee.

In November, Jack Goldsmith made the case that institutions would keep Trump in check:

Every one of these factors—the permanent bureaucracy, including inspectors general and government lawyers; the press; civil society; Congress; and courts—will operate in much more robust fashion to check President Trump than they did to check President Obama. Presidential actions do not take place in a vacuum, but rather in a context where they are interpreted based on perceptions about the President’s intentions and trustworthiness.

So far, only the courts have demonstrated that they grasp the task at hand. But it’s a start.

Thanks to Chris Savage — friend of all progressives in Michigan — I’ve gotten to speak with John Dingell twice.

For me, a guy who was such a stone cold geek about about American history that I used to sneak off to sit in Disney’s Hall of Presidents, the honor of sitting down with the longest serving member of Congress ever has not been diminished by the cynicism of becoming a hairy old man.

I tried to sketch out the scope of Dingell’s service in my USA Today column:

On the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, he was working as a page on the floor of the House of Representatives. First elected in 1955, he presided over the House in 1965 when Medicare passed and was there in 2010 when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Dingell was one of the last two World War II veterans left in Congress when he retired after his 30th term in 2014.

But that hardly shades in the history this man contains in his 90 year old frame. He’s a living time capsule whose votes helped shaped the greatest period of progress in our history.

Chris and I sought him and his wife, my current representative in Congress Rep. Debbie Dingell, for the first interview we did for The Sit and Spin Room after Trump’s win. Then I found him somewhat sanguine that Trump was no huge aberration in our history.

In our more recent meeting, after Trump’s inauguration, he definitely seemed more worried by our shared fate as he expressed his fear that Trump, oblivious to history and diplomacy, could start a world war with a tweet.

But he also said something hopeful about Trump that didn’t fit with the pessimism that feels native to this moment in history:

“He’s going to be amazed with what he can’t get away with. And you will too.”

Before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday night, it didn’t seem right to put such optimism in print. Today, knowing that this ruling can easily be reversed, it does.

[Photo by Rep. Debbie Dingell.]