President Barack Obama, right, listens as Washington Post Columnist E. J. Dionne speaks at the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Gaston Hall at Georgetown University in Washington, Tuesday, May 12, 2015.

Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

EJ Dionne Is Hopeful For America's Future After Trump

November 15, 2017

E.J. Dionne wants to remind everyone: there is a future after Trump.

In his new book, "One Nation After Trump: A Guide For The Perplexed, The Disillusioned, The Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported," Dionne (along with co-authors Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein) assesses the 2016 election and looks ahead to ways anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats can find common ground.

Dionne joined Boston Public Radio to discuss the book and what he believes is next for American politics. A partial transcript follows.

MARGERY EAGAN: You talk about [Trump's election] as the culmination of a quite long history of the Republican Party. Tell us about that.

E.J. DIONNE: We argue in the book that the Republican Party has been radicalizing for 20 to 25 years. We quote John F. Kennedy's great line out of his Inaugural Address: "He who foolishly rides to power on the back of the tiger ends up inside." The Republican establishment ended up inside the tiger they were riding. When Donald Trump was being a birther and saying President Obama had not been born in the U.S., a lot of Republicans went along. Even John Boehner, who said, "Well, I don't believe that," was asked, "Well, do you disown it?" and he said, "Well, everyone's entitled to their opinion." So on those grounds, you saw it.

On immigration, the Republicans had always supported immigration reform. George W. Bush tried to get it through Congress. Ronald Reagan signed it into law. Yet as time went on, the party more and more cozied up to nativist feeling in the country ... Then there was just a general attitude toward the opposition. When President Obama was in office, [the Republicans] were determined to stop everything. They were playing this radical game, and along came Donald Trump who said, "Well, I'm the real thing. Don't vote for these Republican establishment candidates." A lot of Republicans said, "Yeah, that's what we've been hearing from these guys [and] they didn't deliver it." Trump said he would, and he won the nomination.

JIM BRAUDE: Enough people followed him under our electoral system to get him elected, but I'm sure you've seen the surveys recently ... They're loyal to the man, not the ideology such as it is. That's an accurate statement, is it not?

DIONNE: I'm glad you mentioned the electoral system because we have one chapter in this book on political reform, an it's worth noting the Electoral College has now gone haywire twice, relative to the popular vote. We talk about a lot of other things like gerrymandering ... On Trump, I think we should not write off all the people who voted for him as completely indifferent to the news. If you look at his vote, he got 46 point something percent. He's down to somewhere between 33 percent and 38 percent in his approval ratings. There are plenty of people who voted for Trump, whether because they were mad in general [or] didn't like Clinton — which was a significant piece of his support — who nonetheless don't like the way he's been president.

BRAUDE:  But they don't like the Democrats either ... Their numbers are as bad as Donald Trump's are, aren't they?

DIONNE: No, they're not, actually. And if you look at the results of the elections last Tuesday ... in almost every jurisdiction in the country, from Maine to Connecticut to Virginia to New Jersey all the way down to Georgia across to Washington state, Democrats won everything, and it was all the way down to the local level. A lot of people were voting Democratic for town councils because they were mad at Donald Trump. 

BRAUDE: I always wonder, despite what exit polls say, did people give Democrats a huge victory because of the policies they espoused or because they were not Donald Trump?

DIONNE: Oh, I think in significant part because they were not Donald Trump. One of the reasons we wrote this book ... is [to give] a series of suggestions about where we need to go if we're going to move past Trump.

On the other hand, if you take the Affordable Care Act, [there's] this notion that Democrats have been powerless. You wouldn't have defeated the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act if Democrats from Bernie Sanders to Joe Manchin hadn't stuck together, and if large numbers of Americans hadn't shown up at all these town halls and said, "Wait a minute, this thing is better than we thought." I've ascribed a lot to the political philosopher Joni Mitchell: "You don't know what you've got til it's gone." That's what happened to the Affordable Care Act. People suddenly focused and said, "My God, if we lose this, we lose some real benefits." And they said, "We don't want this repealed."

Click the audio player above to hear more from E.J. Dionne. This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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