Fighting fire with fire works during wildfires; sometimes different tactics are required.

Donald Trump referred to Maxine Waters as a “low IQ person,” an accusation he hurls at just about every person he knows who isn’t white. Or isn’t Kanye West.

Good Americans have to fight back against such broad and demeaning generalities; unfortunately, at times, they have to fight back also against people like Maxine Waters.

In June of this year she urged harassment of Trump administration officials in public places to let them know they’re “not welcome anymore, anywhere.” Most Democrats with a scintilla of sense recognized this as rantings from frustration, but some did not. Her suggestion stuck, and now the Republicans are using Waters’s urgings to prove that the Democrats are wild-eyed lunatics bent on destroying the country. Of course it’s a ridiculous accusation, but Waters’s inappropriate suggestion is still out there. On record.

In recent weeks there has been a good deal of criticism concerning the ages of the Judiciary Committee, the implication being that they’ve lost touch, that they’re mired in beliefs from a half century ago. It’s hard to discount that, but it’s hard not to discount also that the combined ages of Maxine Waters, Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Patrick Leahy, and Joe Biden (to whom many Democrats are looking in desperation) is 396.

This doesn’t make them unfit for office, but it does reduce the significance of our argument that the old white Republicans constitute the problem. We Democrats can’t have it both ways. But we can have it our way if we truly trust what we believe in.

Liberal principles.

John Locke proposed that people had natural rights to “life, liberty, and property.” The role of the government, he said, was to preserve these rights.

Life, liberty, and property. They stand on their own. They don’t require an apology. And they don’t require browbeating Republican legislators who don’t agree with us.

A free and effective education, a health care system that does not pauperize a victim, a job market that provides a living wage, a safe and secure place to live for all citizens, the freedom to make our own choices with regard to religion and lifestyle, equal opportunity without regard to race or national origin—these are all concepts with which we grew up and which we accepted. Maybe at some level we knew there were people in our own country who opposed those beliefs. They were called anarchists and radicals; now they’re called Republicans.

But we let it happen. We were smug and self-satisfied, complaisantly agreeing that “both parties are the same” and “what difference does it make?” or, as I heard during the election of 2016, “maybe it’s time to shake things up.”

Consider them shook.

Now we want the instant fix—throw the Republicans out of restaurants, harass them on the streets, excoriate them on Facebook. Meanwhile the damage being done to the liberal principles of our country are almost beyond imagining.

How do we stop this? First off, let’s stop being stupid. Let’s stop using illiberal tactics to promote a liberal agenda. Trump is an amoral, vapid, and simplistic boor. Not even the Republicans can deny that. But he’s winning because what we heard about sticks and stones is, alarmingly, true.

Second let’s stop continuing to be stupid. Let’s stop shouting at Flake and Collins, Graham and McConnell—they can’t hear you. They’re in bed with Trump where it’s warm and safe and comfy. And let’s stop the unrestricted censure of Republicans—stop acting like the frenzied and hysterical mobs we castigate at the Trump rallies—and work steadily and methodically to remove these people from leadership positions before their damage becomes irreversible. It took the Republicans fifty years to nurture and perfect this perverse autocracy, but we can’t wait fifty years to subvert it: by that time, we won’t even be able to define democracy, let alone revive it.

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