These are not normal times.
The man in the White House is reckless and unmanageable, a danger to the Constitution, a threat to our democratic institutions.
Last week some of his worst qualities were on display: his moral vacuity and his disregard for the truth, as well as his stubborn resistance to sensible advice. As ever, he lashed out at imaginary enemies and scapegoated others for his own failings. Most important, his reluctance to offer a simple and decisive condemnation of racism and Nazism astounded and appalled observers around the world.
With such a glaring failure of moral leadership at the top, it is desperately important that others stand up and speak out to defend American principles and values. This is no time for neutrality, equivocation or silence. Leaders across America — and especially those in the president’s own party — must summon their reserves of political courage to challenge President Trump publicly, loudly and unambiguously.
Enough is enough.
Some people clearly understand this. On Monday, after Trump suggested that “alt-left” counter-protesters were as much to blame as Nazis and white supremacists for the fiasco in Charlottesville, a courageous CEO — Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck & Co. — resigned from the president’s American Manufacturing Council in protest. His departure, which the ever-gracious president greeted with derision, led to an exodus of other commission members.
Also last week, five members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a tacit rebuke to the president by condemning racism and hatred in Charlottesville. Denouncing Nazis and Klansmen is not exactly controversial or cutting-edge in 2017, but for the generals to take on the commander in chief is, to say the least, highly unusual.
Many Republicans and conservatives have broken ranks as well in recent months, dismayed by the daily chaos, belligerence and mismanagement. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have been outspoken critics. Max Boot, David Frum and other conservative public intellectuals have written articulately about the failures of the Trump presidency; the venerable conservative magazine National Review has as well. On Friday, former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said Trump’s response to Charlottesville had “caused racists to rejoice,” and that if he didn’t apologize it could lead to “an unraveling of our national fabric.” These votes of no-confidence from fellow conservatives and Republicans are powerful indictments.
But where are the rest?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) are the two most-powerful men in Congress. Both have fired off the occasional potshot but for the most part have stood firmly behind this wildly flawed president, despite the taunts and insults Trump hurled at them from his Twitter redoubt.
What holds them back? Craven, self-serving political calculations designed to protect their careers, and dwindling hope that the president, despite everything, will help them move their long-delayed legislative agenda.
Their silence is shameful.
How about the more rational members of Trump’s Cabinet? They should be fleeing the administration, refusing to stand mutely against the wall at his press conferences while he steps on their messages and undermines their best efforts.
Many rank-and-file GOP members of Congress are simply too scared of alienating Republican voters or of enraging a vindictive Trump or of provoking a primary challenge from the right funded by the Koch brothers or the Mercer family. They should wake up and declare their independence.
In California, the pressure is sometimes in the other direction. For instance, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), a Trump supporter who won reelection in 2016 by an extraordinarily narrow 2,348 votes, knows he needs to distance himself from Trump if he hopes to win reelection in 2018; he has done so, slowly, a bit. It would be nice if he did so on principle, but in the end, he and his colleagues may be more persuaded by Trump’s low favorability ratings and the near certainty of challenges from Democrats in the midterm election.
Men and women of conscience can no longer withhold judgment. Trump’s erratic nature and his impulsive, demagogic style endanger us all.
Republicans and conservatives around the country should be just as concerned as Democrats about Trump’s conflicts of interest, his campaign’s relationship with the Russians and whether he engaged in obstruction of justice. They should call him out when he sows division, when he dog-whistles, when he emboldens bigots. They should stand up for global human rights, for constructive engagement with the rest of the world and for other shared American values that transcend party allegiances.
Rejecting the president of one’s own party could mean alienating friends, crossing allies, damaging one’s chances of advancement or risking one’s career altogether for a matter of principle. But that’s the very definition of leadership.
No one can sit on the sidelines now. It’s time for Republicans to show some spine.
This is the seventh in a series.