July 17, 2019 | Reading Time: < 1 minute

I need some help

I need some help thinking about this piece from Jonathan Bernstein. I normally agree with his takes, but this one rubs me the wrong way. I can’t quite tell why though. I’d love to hear your thoughts. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-06-26/democrats-should-stop-the-lock-him-up-chants-about-donald-trump

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I need some help thinking about this piece from Jonathan Bernstein. I normally agree with his takes, but this one rubs me the wrong way. I can’t quite tell why though. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Matt, NYC on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    It’s silly to start policing the Dems when instead the party needs to take the risk to formally begin impeachment proceedings. There are processes available and our elected officials are too worried about political blowback (Getty g re-elected) than doing the right thing. Bernstein is talking around a greater issue — that’s what’s bugging you, I think. I want justified political action, not thought police.

  2. Joshua Holland on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    This piece bothered me too because I found it an exercise in false equivalence. Two points. First, Mueller found 8 instances of obstruction that satisfied DOJ’s 3-point criteria for charging. Anyone else in the country would have been charged. That’s not the case with Clinton, or anyone else on the Dem side who’s been targeted by the chant. Second, and perhaps more importantly, folks on Twitter may be saying “lock him up” but elected officials and the presidential candidates–and remember that this started with Kamala–have all said we need to investigate and charge as the facts deem appropriate. That’s just saying you uphold the rule of law.

    • Mourning Our Democracy on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      Agreed. It’s not only false equivalence but it reeks of the tone policing Republicans do whenever they fear Dems are getting out of line.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      Agree. His other false binary was “lock him up” vs. accountability. I was kinda stunned when he did. He implied that democratic norms overrule accountability. There’s a case for that, I supposed, but I didn’t think JB would take that position.

  3. Jacob on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    My opinion is that Donald Trump is not a political opponent in the traditional sense. He’s a criminal with no legitimate claim to power (you have previously written about his lack of legitimacy and I agree 100% with that analysis). As a result, normal rules do not apply to him, and while you can argue that I am proposing a slippery slope, punishing Trump for his crimes against his fellow citizens and the Republic at large is the only way that we are going to move on from this horrible era that he (and Russia, and McConnel, and Ryan, and Boehner, and the list goes on…) ushered in. And if that punishment including locking him up? So be it.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      A fascinating position to take. Bernstein had said Trump isn’t normal. He might agree with treating him as a criminal president and not a legit president.

      • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

        Would you mind if I riffed on that idea in one of next week’s Editorial Boards?

        • Jacob on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

          Of course not, please feel free to!

      • Jacob on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

        Yeah totally….every time I think about norms and ‘lock HIM up’ chants, I keep coming back to the idea of legitimacy and how until we first deal with a punishment for these grifters and criminals we’re never going to move forward as a society.

  4. BettR on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    I am really tired of folks telling me what is and is not an appropriate response to DJT’s administration. I will not stand in a room and chant anything, but that is just me. In my opinion the only appropriate response is impeachment and GOTV in 2020. I don’t need anyone telling me how to think about criminal behavior emanating from today’s White House. Meanwhile the House of Representatives have a duty to the Constitution. I would like them to do their duty. However, only four non-Dems could bring themselves to call out DJT on his blatant misogyny and racism. So guess we are stuck with GOTV.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      A moral stance that clear and right is hard to argue with. I mean, *I* can’t argue with it.

  5. abbyinsm on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    Dems shouldn’t fall into the bad behavior put into practice by the Trump campaign. Dem candidates need to give more nuanced responses in these cases. “I believe Trump has committed crimes, and I expect the Justice Department, if it can do its job without political interference, will seek indictments of Trump and his associates for a number of federal crimes.” The media needs to aggressively combat Trump’s gaslighting. 50 years of poor civics education has resulted in an electorate, and a president, that do not understand the separation of powers.

    • Mourning Our Democracy on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      The Justice Department (indeed, justice itself) has been coopted by Trump and Barr.

    • Joshua Holland on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      That is precisely what they’ve been saying. Rank-and-file Dems may be saying other, less temperate things, but the electeds are right there.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      You remind me that we liberals need to focus on civic education as least as much as we do elections. I still believe that 2016 would not have happened the way it did if every American were committed to their duty as citizens and satisfied the obligations of that duty by voting. We need to pick up where John Dewey left off.

  6. realsaramerica on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    I can’t remember the last time I agreed with something Tom Friedman wrote but this spoke to the concerns I have: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/opinion/trump-2020.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share There was one moment in the debate when they were all agreeing to provide healthcare to undocumented immigrants and as a self-employed person married to another self-employed person paying over $26K a year for a high deductible plan, I turned to my husband and said, “Can we get affordable healthcare too?” As for “lock him up” chants, I want him locked up, but most of all I want him out of the Oval Office in 2020. Our republic can’t survive another four years of Trump, particularly if the GOP still holds the Senate, because it’s clear they’re putting party over country and will not provide any of the necessary checks on executive power. If Trump gets to appoint more SCOTUS judges we are done for, because then we’ll have completely lost judicial checks, which right now are the only safeguard we’ve got.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      Re insurance: I think we can expect the Republicans and the press to focus more on getting rid of private health insurance and less on universal health care for EVERYONE. So we all of us need to do whatever we can to push that nuance into the fore. The point isn’t getting rid of anything except bad health insurance (which is often private as we all know). The point is health care for everyone.

      • abbyinsm on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

        We have a lot of work to do in the health reform movement. There is major tension between an incremental or blended approach and Day One single payer/Medicare for all. Those who have excellent health insurance don’t want to lose it. I think the labor movement is the only force that can straighten this out.

  7. Mirjam on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    Chanting lock him up implies skipping due process, so yes, I agree that is wrong. When we can see daily the consequences of Barr carrying Trump’s water, yes it is wrong for presidential candidates to instruct the next AG to investigate certain people/crimes.
    But. Any decent, impartial AG will follow the evidence that Mueller unearthed and that will be unearthed by all the investigations that are ongoing.
    Asking a presidential candidate how (s)he would handle it is a question with only wrong answers: saying they will stay out of it will enrage the voters because of the appearance of letting him getting away with his crimes, saying they will prosecute will enrage the voters because the AG should be impartial.
    I do want him impeached. I do want him locked up. But I also want it done the right way.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      I agree with Josh Holland (above) on that. No Democrat of any stature has said we should lock Trump up without due process. Bernstein implies that Dems are. I think he’s wrong.

  8. Pat Garofalo on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    My problem with this line of reasoning is that it’s another media/pundit double standard, wherein Democrats are expected to adhere to norms that everyone knows Republicans won’t. It’s like when journalists ask Democrats over and over how they will deal with Mitch McConnell breaking every norm in the Senate should a Democrat win in 2020: No one asks McConnell about the norm-breaking, they ask how Democrats will react to it, because Republican misbehavior is just baked into the cake. It just is, like a natural disaster, something to be reacted to, not eliminated. Same deal here: We KNOW R’s will act a certain way, yet hand-wring over the Democrats doing the same thing, because Republicans are treated like misbehaving children and Democrats are the adults in the room who should know better.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      I vacillate between protecting norms and breaking them. But if we think of our present moment as a transition between one political regime (Reagan-Bush-Trump) into another (Obama-?) then maybe we just need a new set of norms.

  9. WaltFrench@EarthLink.Net on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    As a friend says, no, you DON’T fight fire with fire. You use water, compressed CO2 or a foam extinguisher.

    So I agree with Mr. B. to a degree.

    There is exactly ONE criterion I would use for party messaging: does it move us closer to ridding us not of just Trump, but the GOP Outrage Machine® that installed him and all his allies, a group of unnamed co-conspirators that enjoys WIDE support today.

    Trump’s ratings rose (among possibly-wavering GOP voters) because he deftly counter-attacked The Squad’s documentation of brutalization of asylum-seekers and other would-be immigrants, by challenging their patriotism and American values. Of course, he had to use the most flagrant lie (about Omar’s “love” for ISIS) and gross exaggerations of others’ policy positions, but it apparently resonates with MUCH of the nation.

    An extensive Fox.Com piece on the he-said/they-said, portrayed their positions reasonably accurately. But it absolutely left out Trump’s fabrications. A rational person might conclude, “gee, if it’s a question of whether some non-Americans have to endure a bit of hardship, versus the Dems viciously destroying our nation, I’ll go with Trump.”

    The GOP has had decades of experience propagandizing, creating identity politics as the ultimate test of truth. Dems will NOT win that battle.

    What disturbs *me* about Bernstein’s post is it over-emphasizes what Dems SHOULDN’T do, and doesn’t translate it into a message that can sweep out Trump and the horse he rode in on. I’m not the expert but think Dems can do well by emphasizing how THEY are actually working for the 90% that has seen the playing field tilted against them for the past 5 decades. Trump and his strategists realized that Mitt’s “maker” class wasn’t ever going to be enough to get elected again, and smartly pivoted to play the resentment that the GOP should be the target of. Dems can win them back by showing them Dems care about THEIR concerns.

    (Yes, many of those voters have been sucked into believing racist propaganda. But Americans deserve to vote for their own interests, and a pro-active campaign that hates the sin, loves the sinner, will move us to what is better for the USA.)

    I believe that ANY messaging about how Dems will make life better for voters, is good messaging. The voters, after all, nominally run the country. Save the “lock him up” stuff for the rallying campaign workers and others who’ve already seen how awful it is to have Trump in command.

    • WaltFrench@EarthLink.Net on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      Regards the GOP’s ability to control the dialogue: check out ANY polling on voters’ beliefs about AOC’s and the rest of the Squad’s promoting Islam and ISIS. This is a battle the GOP chose to advance & it has met essentially ZERO resistance. (“We lost that hill.”) We were making good ground by emphasizing Trump’s personal and systemic depradations of women, children and others that America can identify with, but excepting the very good response by the Squad member themselves, have gotten suckered into abandoning that effort to fight the Trump snipers.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      Really fine thinking here, Walt. Thank you.

  10. MIGriffin on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    What pains me, and maybe you, is that we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Trump has tapped into such a vein of visceral fear that logic has lost all power. Democrats will be attacked for the most exemplary behavior and vilified for the slightest slip, and Bernstein is coming from a place that just doesn’t matter. I hope you’re right that we’re just exhausted from the gaslighting…

  11. JBR on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    Agree with thoughtful comments. Double standard. Threats of prosecution should be used where appropriate. Not as political taunt. Meanwhile email fiasco … while not horrible … was handled horribly.

  12. Jackie on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    Have any Republicans claimed to be offended by the “lock him up chants” or claim that they are unfair? The right doesn’t get nuance. I think that it is false equivalence you are sensing.

    I do think the Trumpists get repetition. The chants probably force them (some of them) to see how they look to those the other side. The protests could cause dissonance that they they will need to resolve. I’m pretty sure that it won’t hurt the Dems. The Democratic leaders and elected officials can go high, but the rank and file need to feel like they are fighting back. The chants are such in-your-face poetic justice, especially when it comes to Flynn, that the in-kind response from the Democrats seems inevitable. Reaping what they sowed.

  13. Leslie M. on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    “It was a violation of democratic politics when Donald Trump and other Republicans started doing this kind of thing three years ago. It’s even worse that Trump has continued it as president. That doesn’t give Democrats license to copy him – even if there’s plenty of evidence that the president has committed crimes.”

    Others have written succinctly already about why it is this piece might be bothering you, but I want to add this early paragraph of Bernstein’s to the mix.

    The Democrats have not copied Trump. He offers no proof, he fabricates circumstance, imagery and reasons. So what the critics are calling out are HIS demonstrable falsehoods. They are tangled in his nets because we are all struggling to work within prior norms.

    Read the transcript of George Will’s interview with the NYT Book Review regarding our inability to unring the bells that Trump has rung. THIS piece is part of that effort to unring… and shows how Will is right. We don’t yet know how to navigate this new territory we are in, but Bernstein’s false equivalencies aren’t the GPS that we need to right our ship.

  14. Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    I think what Bernstein is trying to say is that it’s bad enough for the Oval Office occupant to be spewing prosecutorial norm-busting language that undermines our justice system. It would be therefore just as bad and increase the damage if the Democrats were to do so. I would tend to agree if we were dealing with a principled POTUS and GOP…..however, we are dealing with unprincipled, anti-American characters who daily desecrate our justice system not just rhetorically but in actuality. As others have already commented, I don’t think the Democrats need to engage in any self-imposed tone policing. My recommendation instead would be that the Democrats develop a more powerful slogan which is cutting, easy to remember, upholds the demands for impartial justice AND nails the Oval Office occupant and GOP to the proverbial wall.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      Hi Thornton, see Jacob’s comment above. You’re both on the same page, it seems. He said Trump as a criminal president doesn’t deserve the norms of a normal president.

      • Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

        Agreed. It’s long past time for the Democrats to take off the gloves politically and rhetorically. It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire GOP apparatus (McConnell, Mulvaney, etc.) that we should regard as both criminal, anti-American, and immoral.

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