Donald Trump’s White House exploded with chaos and scandal even before it had the chance to staff up, and the president has indicated every intention of using his Congressional majority to remake our country in his own corrupt and petulant image.
But, in reality, the depravation of our Constitution and democratic process will only happen with the permission of our congressmen and senators.
As one would expect, Democrats have unanimously responded to the beclowning of the presidency with strongly worded statements of condemnation and more importantly, steadfast resistance to Trump’s agenda.
Even Democratic senators who face re-election in 2018 from deep-red states that swung to Trump, such as Senators Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Jon Tester and Joe Donnelly have not wavered. Disappointingly, with the possible exceptions of Senators John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, Republican senators have issued little more than sporadic tweets of concern and have proceeded to fall in line to advance the president’s agenda. Some of them repeatedly spout praise for dignity, duty, empiricism and respect for the democratic process.
But that soliloquizing rings hollow when it is accompanied by a voting record that is nearly indistinguishable from that of Senator Ted Cruz. I’m looking at you, Senators Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse.
In his recent book A Conscience of a Conservative, named after the late Senator Barry Goldwater’s manifesto of the same title, Flake said the words that his Republican colleagues have needed to hear for months. “Too often, we observe the unfolding drama along with the rest of the country, passively, all but saying, ‘Somebody should do something!’ without realizing that that someone is us.”
But then the senator fails to specify what must be done — if he sincerely claims the conscience of a conservative, then he will more closely scrutinize his own calls to action.
Let’s not get carried away with Flake’s attempted shot across the bow of the Trump presidency.
Excluding tangible efforts to thwart Trump’s agenda or remove him for office, his broadside simply isn’t as revolutionary as he’s gotten credit for. How can Flake reference the “devouring ambition of despotic men” while, according to FiveThirtyEight, maintain a voting record that aligns with Trump’s agenda 93.5 percent of the time? Based on the lukewarm support for Trump in Arizona, FiveThirtyEight projected that Flake would vote on the president’s side only 60 percent of the time. Senator Flake, if you’re not listening to your constituents or even your own statements, you will soon find that the Senate does in fact have a term-limiting mechanism: elections.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has also been critical of Trump’s modus vivendi, but to no greater end than Flake. Out of all of his colleagues, he held out the longest on the “Never Trump” train, calling for an independent candidate to challenge Trump but refusing to be that candidate himself. He is a deep thinker and advocate of public decency, and his good-faith discourse is eloquent and well-timed. His Twitter account is funny, charming and heavy on Dad jokes.
But at the same time, per FiveThirtyEight, his voting record has supported the White House agenda 93.6 percent of the time; he voted to confirm nearly all of Trump’s historically ill-equipped Cabinet, to steamroll the judicial filibuster, and to enact every iteration of the cruel Obamacare repeal-and-replace effort. While sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he denied Merrick Garland a perfunctory meeting, which was completely at odds with his alleged respect for the process.What does it really mean to wax poetic about democratic duty if, when it comes time to choose “yea” or “nay,” you vote like any other partisan hack or right-wing ideologue?
Surely it must be demoralizing to be good-faith senators from a party with a flagrantly bad-faith approach. Their words, albeit empty, are arguably better than their colleagues’ silent endorsements. And it’s an unfair standard to expect them to support liberal policies.
But if such a gap between their stated values and voting records continues, they will own the Faustian bargain that the Republican party has made just as much as Senators McConnell and Cruz do now.
At some point, they will need to refuse to vote for destructive bills that hadn’t seen a single public hearing. They will need to support primary challengers to Trump or challenge him themselves.
Sure, they might upset the dogmatic activists of their broken party. But the dignity and democratic duty that Flake and Sasse promote demand more of them. Powerful words without corresponding deeds are as useless as a cup of covfefe.