Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The gratuitous "we"

I'm glad to have Jeff Flake speaking with some clarity about just what a destructive force the Trump administration is.

It's true he's still making some ... interesting choices. The other Republicans in the Senate need his vote to pass their budget and their tax cuts. If he thinks elected officials need to stop normalizing an aberrant occupant of the Oval Office, he's in a unique position to force them to do so. "I will vote for your bill, but you need to call out the president and you need to carry out a real Congressional investigation."

Particularly if he and Bob Corker were to act together, they could really

They don't seem to be doing that, opting instead for saying scathingly true things about Trump, then voting for Republican priorities without demanding anything from their colleagues.

So my admiration for Flake's honesty is tempered by what looks like his unwillingness to bring his principles to life.

My respect was further tempered by his op-ed in today's Washington Post.

Flake recounts Joseph Welch's bracing words, calling out the indecency of Sen. Joe McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings.

The moral power of Welch’s words ended McCarthy’s rampage on American values, and effectively his career as well.
After Welch said his piece, the hearing room erupted in applause, those in attendance seemingly shocked by such bracing moral clarity in the face of a moral vandal. Someone had finally spoken up and said: Enough.
By doing so, Welch reawakened the conscience of the country. The moment was a shock to the system, a powerful dose of cure for an American democracy that was questioning its values during a time of global tumult and threat. We had temporarily forgotten who we were supposed to be.
I get the feeling that Flake would like to see himself as today's Joseph Welch, the person whose clarion call brings us back to our better selves.

I guess it can't hurt, and one day after Flake's floor speech lighting into Trump and announcing his own decision not to run again, it's obviously too early to tell if it will have a serious impact.

But after Flake's speech, the room didn't erupt into applause. From the perspective of his Republican colleagues, it looks like he was pissing in the punch bowl.

Also, Joseph Welsh wasn't himself a Senator with a direct say in the conduct of that body, but an outside lawyer whose only tool was the power of his words. Flake, as I argued above, has more tangible tools which he is apparently unwilling to use.

What's more galling is the next part of his op-ed:
We face just such a time now. We have again forgotten who we are supposed to be.
There is a sickness in our system — and it is contagious.
How many more disgraceful public feuds with Gold Star families can we witness in silence before we ourselves are disgraced?
How many more times will we see moral ambiguity in the face of shocking bigotry and shrug it off?
How many more childish insults do we need to see hurled at a hostile foreign power before we acknowledge the senseless danger of it?
How much more damage to our democracy and to the institutions of American liberty do we need to witness in silence before we count ourselves as complicit in that damage?
Jeff, could you be clearer about who you mean when you say, "we"?

In your narrative of Welch and McCarthy, the "we" is apparently the American people as a whole. By analogy, you'd like to have us think that "we" all are complicit in silently witness the damage being done.

Except that there are lots of people speaking out today.

There have been people speaking out the whole 9 months Trump has been in office.

There were people speaking out well before the election (to your credit, you were one of them).

"We" even had an election where one candidate - What was her name? I can't quite recall - made a big deal of how morally and temperamentally unfit Trump was to be president. She hung so much of her campaign on it that even some in her own party say she should have spent more of her ad money pushing issues.

And you know what? That lady got more votes than Trump. Not enough to beat him in our crazy system, but more than he got.

But it was your party that overwhelmingly gave their votes to the moral monster you've been complaining about.

It was elected Republicans - not all of them, but the vast majority - who thought that it was better to have a McCarthyite president than one whose policies they disliked.

It's the voters and elected officials of your party who remain silent, or who stretch to find the most absurd rationalizations of any untruth the boss cares to utter.

It's not really courage when you hide behind the conceit that it's "we."

Own who's really driving this thing, then we can talk.


  1. Yeah, Flake and Corker need to take action with votes, not just emotionally-laden words. If Flake is serious--"the factions that make up our parties to be compelled to talk until we have a policy solution to our problems"-- then they can stop caucusing with the GOP enablers who are the ones who created the senatorial mess. But Flake just today said he's in for tax cuts...

    1. I'm not even saying he can't have his tax cut. It's horrendous policy, but it's the policy he thinks is right and/or has been paid for, so let him pursue it.

      But his party needs his vote. "I want the tax cut, and I'm willing to vote for it, BUT you have to take the following steps to disempower the unstable asshole in the White House."

      So you say, "Why would he do that? He wants the tax cut, so where's his leverage?"

      Which is another way of saying he thinks the president is an unstable madman, but he places a higher priority on getting the tax cut through.

      A great way to show you're serious about your principles is to be willing to give up something important to you.

      God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. It's kinda crazy, but Abraham showed his devotion to god by being willing to obey.

      Does Flake put more value on his tax cuts than Abraham put on Isaac?

    2. Of course God pulled out on that command at the last minute. Maybe Flake will too. :)

    3. We're reading the analogy differently.

      You're putting Flake in the role of God commanding Republicans to sacrifice that which they most love.

      I was thinking of Flake more in the role of Abraham, and I'm suggesting that he should be willing to sacrifice that which he most loves (tax cuts) in order to show his devotion to human decency.

      But of course, the whole point (from his perspective) is not to lose out on tax cuts, it's to get his fellow Parteianhangigen to stop treating an unstable madman as if he were normal. if they're willing to do that, he get Trump tamed and he gets tax cuts.

      It's win-win! Well, for him.

      For the rest of us, it's one out of two.