My friend David French, one of the most admirable voices in America today, argues that conservatives need not vote against Republican senate candidates in order to send a message about Trumpism. I disagree. He writes, "A rage, fury, and a 'burn it all down' mentality is one of the maladies that brought us to the present moment."
This assumes that the reason some plan to evict Republican senators is simply a matter of anger. But voting against a candidate or even a whole party is not nihilism. It's the legal, Constitutional way to express approval or disapproval. The current Republican Party has chosen to become the burn-it-all-down party. The most demoralizing aspect of the past four years has not been that a boob conman was elected president but that one of the two great political parties surrendered to him utterly.
David suggests that voting against Republican senators ignores that they had bad choices.
It's certainly true that Republicans perceived their options to be limited. If they speak up, they say, they will flush their careers down the drain. Look at what happened to Jeff Flake, Mark Sanford and Bob Corker!
But this overstates things. A number of Republicans have stood up to Trump and maintained their electoral viability -- especially when they challenged him on matters in which he has shown little interest, namely public policy. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., for example, voted against the president's USMCA trade agreement and (gasp) wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal explaining his reasoning.
When the president abruptly announced, following a phone call with Turkish leader Recep Erdogan, that he was withdrawing American troops forthwith from Syria, a number of Republicans voiced horror. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said it would lead to a "slaughter." Sen. Ted Cruz said it would be "DISGRACEFUL." Rep. Liz Cheney called it a "catastrophic mistake that puts our gains against ISIS at risk and threatens America's national security." Senators Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and others weighed in as well.
When the president suggested lifting sanctions on Russia, Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said it would be "horrible" for the United States. And after Gen. James Mattis wrote an op-ed saying that Donald Trump was making a "mockery of the U.S. Constitution," Sen. Lisa Murkowski said: "I was really thankful. I thought General Mattis' words were true, and honest and necessary and overdue."
So, it is possible to speak up about this president and survive. I use that word advisedly, because these Republican officeholders often use words like "kill" or "destroy" or "annihilate" when contemplating what Trump would do to them if they raise their heads too far above the parapet. In fact, all that actually threatened them was the possibility of nasty tweets and the chance that they might lose their seats.
David is right that very few people in any walk of life display courage on anything, though craven Republicans holding House and Senate posts might want to pause from time to time to contemplate the extraordinary valor of protesters in Hong Kong, Iran and Egypt who continue to put their freedom and sometimes their lives at risk by taking to the streets. And should being an elected official really be one's "life work"?
As noted above, Republicans have criticized the president on policy matters, sometimes even harshly. Where they have shrunk into their shells was on matters that are even more critical to the health of our republic. They have, by their silence, given assent to his cruelty, his assaults on truth, his dangerous flirtations with political violence and his consistent demolition of institutions.
Institutions are like scaffolding. When a society's institutions are weakened, the whole edifice can come crashing down.
Donald Trump undermined the institution of the free press, urging his followers to disbelieve everything except what came from the leader. He weakened respect for law enforcement and the courts, suggesting that he was the victim of a "deep state" and that "so-called judges" need not be respected. He scorned allies and toadied to dictators. He has cast doubt on the integrity of elections. He ran the executive branch like a gangster, demanding personal loyalty and abusing officials such as the hapless Jeff Sessions, who merely followed ethics rules. He ignored the law to get his way on the border wall. He violated the most sacred norms of a multiethnic society by encouraging racial hatred. He made the U.S. guilty of separating babies from their mothers.
Elected officials, terrified of their own constituents, have cowered and temporized in the face of a truly unprecedented assault on democratic values. They believed that they were powerless and acted accordingly. Since they were powerless when it counted, perhaps we should make it official?
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