For a long time, I didn’t understand this recurring image in my twitter feed — Sesame Street’s Elmo, a panicked look on his face and arms raised above his head while standing in front of a wall of flames. I guess because Elmo doesn’t have eyelids he necessarily looks panicked all the time, but the inferno definitely adds to the vibe.
But now I get it.
When it became clear last week that Senate Republicans had heard enough and there would be no further witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump (further, because, despite what you heard, there were 18 witnesses and nearly 30,000 documents presented by the House managers), the panic among the Trump-obsessed began to manifest itself on social media, cable television and the floor of the U.S. Senate.
It was not pretty.
Trump is now functionally a king! The 2020 election is already stolen! Every future president will invite other countries to rig our elections! If John Bolton (who, amusingly, was one of the biggest boogeymen to the American left until he became their new hood ornament) isn’t allowed to testify, then the Constitution is meaningless! Trump and his lawyers are like Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini!
And so on and so forth.
Adult humans, many paid to help us find deeper meaning in our politics, morphed before our eyes into Inferno Elmo, arms up and ready to burn.
The Great American Impeachment Meltdown of 2020 followed the Great American Mueller Meltdown of 2019, which followed the Great American Kavanaugh Meltdown of 2018, which followed the Great American Inaugural Meltdown of 2017, which followed the Great American Election Meltdown of 2016.
I’m not sure which puddle is deeper — what I found on the streets of Des Moines during the Iowa Caucus as the snow gave way to unseasonably warm temperatures, or what the American Left has become after three years of Trump’s presidency.
We live in the greatest country the world has ever known, with the most durable and genius governmental framework ever devised by man. Our economy is humming. We are blessed with work (there are more jobs available than people who want them). Our ancestors struggled against the Nazis; we struggle to choose which emotional support iguana to take on our next vacation.
For Americans looking to leap from the nearest tall building over Trump’s acquittal, please back away from the ledge. There is absolutely nothing wrong with American democracy. In fact, it is pretty darn healthy.
In 2018, we had the highest voter turnout for a midterm election in 100 years. This November’s presidential election turnout will likely top 65%, with millions of additional people participating over four years ago.
In other words, things are fine. They were fine. Nobody is stealing this election, and nobody stole the last one. We will pick the next American president right on schedule after a free, fair and vigorous contest. Trump will win. Or he won’t. And the world keeps spinning no matter what.
If you hate Trump, here’s some advice: Stop worrying about Ukraine and instead worry that impeachment actually helped him. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found more Americans oppose Trump’s removal (49% to 46%) than prefer it, and “that the president’s political standing has strengthened in recent months, due largely to a more energized Republican Party base.”
Trump’s “strongly approve” number hit the highest mark of his presidency, he improved among independent voters, and “gained ground” against the leading Democratic candidates. The latest Associated Press national survey found that “Democrats are nervous wrecks and Republican excitement has grown.”
Essentially, impeachment was for people who already hated Trump while the rest of America either yawned or moved in his direction. Democrats setting their hair — or Elmo’s fur — on fire trying to beat Trump should rethink their strategy.
Conservatives and independents who were soft on Trump in 2016 tell me over and over that they still don’t love the guy’s style but that Democratic antics — during primary debates and the impeachment trial — have driven them closer to the president than they ever thought possible. The people I know aren’t attracted to socialism or fatalism or perpetual outrage. They just want to live their lives, go to work, raise their kids and not be overly taxed, blamed or shamed for it.
And therein lies the strategic problem for Democrats. Acting like Inferno Elmo is simply incongruous with how most Americans feel about their country. And prescribing socialist solutions for a capitalist nation enjoying historic prosperity doesn’t jibe with the mood of America, either.
Scott Jennings is a Republican adviser, CNN political contributor, and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He is a 1996 graduate of Dawson Springs High School.