Imagine, if you will, a president who orders all citizens of a certain ethnicity rounded up and placed in detention camps. Or, a president who used the United States Army to force the removal of people from their lands based entirely on their race. If you prefer, picture a president who arrests and detains political oponents without charging them in court.

None of these, of course, are fantastical imaginings: they’re actual historical events that occurred in this country. Though they’re now (rightly) considered sad and shameful periods of our history, they weren’t all acts committed by presidents universally believed to be scoundrels. Indeed, several of these actions were undertaken by presidents widely regarded as among the best leaders in human history: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

To be clear, Donald Trump has not done any of these things. He hasn’t declared martial law, suspended civil rights, started rounding up people into camps or tried to remake the Supreme Court (indeed, his one nominee to that body was recently praised by Ruth Bader Ginsburg). Yet, given the reaction of many on the left, you’d think he’d done all this and worse in his five weeks in office.

Apparently, these days, saying a few nasty things about the national media is worse than all of that. The truth is, the great experiment of American democracy has survived many mediocre and truly awful presidents, and more than a few who gave not a whit for the Constitution or the rule of law. So, please, don’t start going on about how Trump is going to turn this country into a horrible dystopian dictatorship — because conservatives have heard it before.

It was heard constantly throughout the Bush administration, when everything President George W. Bush did was an excuse to panic (now, of course, those same liberals who said that about Bush hold him up as an example). It’s been a consistent refrain about Republican presidents and presidential candidates in recent years, from Ronald Reagan to Bush and John McCain to Mitt Romney. The constant crying of wolf from the liberal intelligentsia (which, yes, includes much of the media) ended up inuring people to the worst accusations against Trump. So, when he declared war against the media, people were ready and willing to believe him.

Democrats, however — if they wish to win in 2018 and beyond, in the age of Trump — would be wise not to fall into this trap. They ought to oppose him when he is wrong, not just as a knee-jerk reaction to everything he does. Now, it may very well be that Democrats, by and large, are in fact opposed to everything he does — but if they are, they should explain exactly why in each instance. This is, after all, a man who thrives when he has enemies; it’s best not to give him easy targets.

Right now, Democrats are casting themselves as the heroic resistance, and that’s wrong. They’re not Princess Leia, and Donald Trump is not Emperor Palpatine. It’s not the end of the world. That sort of myth-making may be appealing to their base, but that’s not what Democrats need. They need to expand their party, and that means reaching out not just to moderates and typical swing voters, but to disaffected liberals as well. That’s hard to do when you assume Trump (and, by extension, his supporters) is evil.

If they want to reach out, Democrats should be listening, not just reacting. They should be listening to the people who felt that Hillary Clinton was an unacceptable option, and who therefore voted for Trump — or who voted for a third-party candidate, or stayed home. They should be trying to expand their base, rather than narrowing it to those most opposed to Trump. That won’t help them — they already have those people.

They cannot afford to merely dismiss Trump supporters as ignorant, or as racist, as so many commentators are wont to do. If they do, they are acting just like Maine Democrats who helped LePage win a second term in office — not like a real opposition party that offers their own positive direction for the country. If Democrats want to win nationally, they’ll learn from the mistakes of their counterparts in Maine, rather than repeating them.

Jim Fossel lives in Gardiner. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter: @jimfossel

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