It had been billed in advance as a “community conversation”—but Wednesday night’s gathering at the Silver Spring Civic Center was far more of a political pep rally, as Rep.-elect Jamie Raskin, D-Takoma Park, was joined by liberal luminary Elizabeth Warren in serving up rhetorical red meat to a solidly blue audience.
“Welcome to the first true blue, overflow Democratic revival meeting of 2016. The resistance begins right here, and the revival begins tonight,” Raskin declared to a cheering crowd of more than 700 in the most heavily Democratic section of the 8th Congressional District, a little more than three weeks after an election that has left Democrats across the country reeling.
Sounding at times more like a tent revival preacher than a constitutional law professor-turned-legislator, Raskin continued: “We are going to revitalize you, re-idealize you, re-democratize you, renew you, refresh you, rescue you, resuscitate you, reanimate you, reinstate you and reactivate you. We’ve got the will and the spirit to fight and carry on.”
Rep.-elect Jamie Raskin and Sen. Elizabeth Warren on stage together at the event. Credit: Edward Kimmel via Flickr
For the next 90 minutes, Raskin—with an assist from Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, and one of his new House colleagues, Rep.-elect Pramila Jayapal of Washington state—sought to accomplish that with an unrelenting stream of attacks on President-elect Donald Trump and members of his incoming administration. In-between, there were efforts to explain why Trump had pulled off his surprise victory, as well as a search for silver linings in the election results.
Raskin opened the evening with a stemwinder in which he referred to Trump as “King Donald” while characterizing incoming White House senior strategist Stephen Bannon, Trump’s campaign chairman, as a “neo Nazi.” Warren—introduced by Raskin as “the woman who drives Donald Trump crazy, even though I admit that’s a pretty short trip”—kept up the barbed rhetoric as she closed the 90-minute event.
“Trump promised that he would drain the swamp in Washington, but so far, he seems to just be loading the swamp with more swamp monsters,” Warren declared. Hours after she had joined another leading member of the Senate’s progressive wing, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in slamming Trump’s choice of Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary, Warren kept up the criticism.
“[Trump] has nominated a Goldman Sachs banker to be basically the chief economic officer of this country, a man who worked to help create the financial crisis—and then, after it occurred, bought a bank so that he could squeeze the families harder who got caught up in the mortgage crisis,” charged Warren, who first achieved political prominence as a sharp critic of the nation’s banking industry.
But first, Warren noted that Trump, while winning the Electoral College, had lost the popular vote by more than 2.3 million ballots, and that Democrats, while failing to win control of the House or Senate, had gained seats in both chambers on Election Day. “Why does that matter?” she asked. “It matters because we are not the minority party, we are the opposition party—and the American people who sent us here do not expect us to roll over and play dead. They expect us to fight for them.”
Analyzing the Election Day results, Warren conceded: “This economy is not working for much of America. Here’s the bad part—this government in Washington is not working for much of America. Donald Trump understood that and he tapped into the anger over that.”
In a rare point of agreement with the president-elect, she declared: “He said one thing that was right—because I’ve said it, too: The system is rigged. But let’s be clear, it is rigged in favor of billionaires like Donald Trump.”
Continued Warren: “Donald Trump campaigned on fear. He told Americans that the problems in America are caused by them—by people who don’t look like you, or people who don’t worship like you, or people who are somehow different from you. It is…an ugly idea that keeps the system rigged.” And, in an allusion to Trump’s controversial plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, she later said to loud applause, “No matter how many times Donald Trump says it, we will never build that stupid wall.”
Earlier, Raskin offered a similar rationale for this year’s election results: “We lost this election in the Electoral College because too many people were still hurting from the multibillion dollar calamities conceived on Wall Street and the calamities that followed. They blamed bipartisan elites for their troubles, and Donald Trump became a vehicle for a lot of people to shock the system,” Raskin acknowledged, while quickly unleashing another round of attacks on Trump and his incoming administration.
“Although he has built his administration squarely on the swamp of financial and political corruption, he campaigned against it. Although he has swallowed up most of the Republican establishment, he ran against it. It was perhaps the greatest political fraud in American history—but the wizard of bankruptcy, the king of debt and sweetheart contracts, the prince of tax avoidance ran successfully as a populist outsider.”
On a more hopeful note, Raskin declared, “America is a good country. We are not a racist country. We are not an alt right country,” referring to an ideology of white nationalism to which Bannon’s critics have linked him. “The alt right is all wrong, but the USA is all right.”
In a final dig at Trump over off-mic comments that became a subject of intense controversy during this year’s campaign, Raskin added, “We want the rest of the world to know that we are not a country that grabs other people by the genitals as a form of social introduction.”
Amid the often lively rhetoric, County Executive Ike Leggett offered a somber note at the outset of the evening as he introduced Raskin.
Very large turnout for Jamie Raskin and Elizabeth Warren rally in Silver Spring. CE Ike Leggett on stage now. pic.twitter.com/76rklj7CLB
— AJ Metcalf (@AJwatchMD) December 1, 2016
“There was an election a couple weeks ago, and, in that election, we had to find something out not just about the candidate, but really about this country,” observed Leggett, the county’s first African-American chief executive who also grew up in the segregated South of the 1950s. “There are fights and battles that many of us fought for years and thought we had put behind us…because I go back to the ’60s and the civil rights struggle, and I thought we had gotten rid of that. Now, I’m having to explain to my grandchildren that they have to fight these fights unfortunately all over again.”
He added to sustained applause, “You do not want to leave this fight to them, to have to go through and have a future that says ‘We cannot get along.’ It is wrong for them, it is wrong for our county, and most importantly, it is wrong for our nation.”