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As an institution, the Democratic Party is failing America at a critical moment in our history. The GOP under Donald Trump is pushing our democracy to the breaking point, conducting a full-scale assault on women’s health and rights, while Democratic Party leaders are frozen by focus groups, caught in a cynical cycle of polling and pandering to a mythical “centrist” voter who is allegedly put off by a robust defense of the rule of law. Meanwhile, virtually every other day, another white male throws his hat into the already overcrowded 2020 presidential ring.

The Democratic Party needs an immediate overhaul. Without sweeping change at the top of the party, Trump and his GOP cohorts will run roughshod over what remains of our constitutional protections, cementing what is quickly becoming an American autocracy. For the good of the country, Democratic leaders should relinquish their leadership positions and everyone but the top ten Democratic presidential candidates (by polling and small donor base) should withdraw and let the field consolidate. Unprecedented times require unprecedented measures.

Democratic leaders have a duty to step up and fight the GOP’s far-right takeover of our government. They are doing the opposite. While Trump and Mitch McConnell stack the judiciary with unqualified right-wing ideologues, and while William Barr uses the Justice Department as a Trump reelection tool, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are fumbling around for ways to appear “bipartisan.” As Trump declares “a near-blanket denial of all congressional requests for information and testimony from members of his Administration,” Democratic leaders dither, fret, and fuss, avoiding the most obvious of remedies for Trump’s lawlessness and corruption: impeachment.

The case for impeaching Trump is overwhelming. Author and professor Brian Klaas wrote in the Washington Post, “If Donald Trump weren’t president, he’d probably be in jail. That’s the view of a bipartisan group of hundreds of former federal prosecutors, who have signed an open letter stating that Trump’s conduct would warrant criminal obstruction of justice charges if he lived anywhere except in the White House.”

Blatant violations of the emoluments clause.

Incitement of violence against the free press in subversion of the First Amendment.

The atrocity of stealing children from asylum-seeking parents and locking them in frigid holding cells with no plans to reunite the families.

Coddling brutal dictators while alienating allies.

Fanning the flames of racism and emboldening Nazis and white supremacists.

Each of these Trump offenses—which are distinct from the brazen transgressions detailed in the Mueller report—demand impeachment. The blue wave of 2018 gave Democrats the power to stop the runaway Trump/GOP train. But the Democratic Party leadership refuses to exercise that power and take meaningful action to preserve our democracy.

As activists Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa explain, “Refusal to impeach sends the message that the situation cannot possibly be that dire – it if were, the Democrats would move to impeach, right? Impeachment sends a message about who we are as a country and what we will accept and abide. The rule of law demands action. Refusing to take action is normalizing atrocity. Lawlessness must be confronted regardless of the outcome, as a matter of principle and conscience. Fighting only the battles that you know you will win is a sure way of ensuring you lose; preemptive surrender, in a rapidly consolidating autocracy, is permanent surrender.”

The argument that impeachment is pointless because the GOP-led Senate won’t convict is specious on its face. In that case, no action should be taken by one body if the other is controlled by the opposing party. Yoni Appelbaum, senior editor at The Atlantic, argues that “It is absurd to suggest that the Constitution would delineate a mechanism too potent to ever actually be employed. Impeachment, in fact, is a vital protection against the dangers a president like Trump poses. And, crucially, many of its benefits—to the political health of the country, to the stability of the constitutional system—accrue irrespective of its ultimate result. Impeachment is a process, not an outcome, a rule-bound procedure for investigating a president, considering evidence, formulating charges, and deciding whether to continue on to trial.”

The refusal to impeach is just one example of Democratic leaders failing to rise to the existential challenge posed by Trump and his GOP sycophants. The Brett Kavanaugh hearings were badly botched. Instead of walking out on what Democrats themselves called a “sham hearing,” they participated in — and legitimized — the seating of a serial perjurer and accused sexual assaulter to the Supreme Court. Had they refused to be a part of the GOP’s court-stacking and had they called for lawful and non-violent mass action, Democrats would have left a permanent and well-deserved mark on Kavanaugh. But once again, they played along with (and were played by) the GOP.

Reporter Brian Beutler wrote about the Democrats’ “halting response to the Trump administration’s mounting abuses of power,” noting that “Democrats have allowed their fear of taking a lonely stand to metastasize into the complete collapse of the last-remaining mechanism of presidential accountability.”

Simply put: The current Democratic leadership is not up to the challenge of protecting an increasingly tenuous U.S. democracy from the GOP’s extremist and authoritarian onslaught. And the overcrowded Democratic 2020 field is becoming a chaotic distraction. It is long past time for fundamental change in a party that has failed to slow down the destruction of our democratic institutions, our norms, and our values.

[UPDATED 5/15/19]

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