U.S. President Donald Trump (3rd R) presides over a meeting about immigration with Republican and Democrat members of Congress, including in the Cabinet Room at the White House January 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Almost as depressing and infuriating as the president’s racism have been the denials and obsequious lies of the congressional Republicans surrounding him.
By Michael Winship / 01.18.2018
Cruelty and recklessness – those are the two sins of which attorney Joseph Welch accused Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954 when, having had enough of the Republican’s redbaiting smears, Welsh famously asked, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
More than sixty years later, we have as president a monumental blockhead for whom decency is non-existent, a King Kong-wannabe who gives a bad name to the rest of us primates. He hurls his gorilla dust in every direction, at one moment name calling and insulting anyone who dares defy him and in the next feeding his ego with unctuous, self-deceptive praise. With rare exception, the Republican Party kowtows to his whims, placing avarice and expediency above principle and patriotism.
The role of the president should be to advance the national discourse, not to encourage its basest Darwinian instincts. But as others have noted, his childish behaviors too often distract from the reality of this presidency’s unique brand of cruelty and recklessness, actions carried out not only at the behest of Trump but also acquiesced to and approved by his administrators and the Republican members of Congress who have determined “it’s best to accept him for who he is” –- the advice House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has given colleagues.
Or so reports The Washington Post in a recent profile that depicts McCarthy having an aide sort out the Starburst candy flavors Trump prefers, like an eighties roadie making sure there aren’t any brown M&M’s backstage during a Van Halen concert. That’s roadie, Rep. McCarthy, as in “toady.”
When it comes to the aforementioned recklessness, just a glance at the Trump White House foreign policy, or lack thereof, reveals a breathtaking disregard for diplomacy and international cooperation, an agenda seemingly fixed on little more than repudiating anything Barack Obama attempted on the world stage.
As for cruelty, where to start? In just the first couple of weeks of the new year, we’ve seen the announced end of Temporary Protected Status for some 200,000 El Salvadorans who have been living here since 2001 (similar exit orders already had come for Haitians and Nicaraguans), raids on nearly a hundred 7-Elevens to roust undocumented workers, the deportation of immigration activist Jean Montrevil, the detention of fellow advocate Ravi Ragbir and news that California specifically is being singled out for declaring itself a sanctuary and will be hit by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids aimed at arresting more than 1500 in the northern part of the state.
Hamid Aleaziz at the San Francisco Chronicle describes the plan as “a major sweep… the biggest enforcement action of its kind under President Trump” and reports that agents will be brought in from around the country just to give California a hotfoot and make life a nightmare for the undocumented. Senator Diane Feinstein told the Chronicle “the administration is carrying out its enforcement actions to make a political point… not based on the security of the country.”
On Wednesday night, Yeganeh Torbati at Reuters reported, “Haitians will no longer be eligible for U.S. visas given to low-skilled workers.” Add to all of this the ongoing fight over DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, with Trump’s ominous threat to the future of 700,000 Dreamers, whose only crime was to be brought to the US before they were adults. And of course, his simultaneously appalling and absurd “shithole countries” remarks, made at the end of a week during which Trump’s position on an immigration bill briefly shifted back and forth until his right-wing once again hammered into him what he’s supposed to think.
Almost as depressing and infuriating as the president’s racism have been the denials and obsequious lies of Republicans who were at the White House meeting when Trump reportedly made his comments. Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue first claimed they had not been in a position to hear anything, then flatly denied Trump had said the offensive word at all, a backflip of striking cowardice, not only in the moment but indicative overall of the white nationalist paranoia and bigotry fighting to hold back the inevitable but in the meantime consciously wrecking lives.
Republican senators initially were slow to resist their Wisconsin colleague Joe McCarthy. But in 1950, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith made a Declaration of Conscience in which she attacked McCarthy’s tactics—“the Four Horsemen of Calumny—Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.” Six other Republicans signed her statement.
In 1954, Senator Ralph Flanders, Republican of Vermont, declared, “It does not seem that [McCarthy’s] Republican label can be stuck on very tightly when by intention or through ignorance he is doing his best to shatter that party whose label he wears.” In another speech he compared McCarthy to Hitler, attempting “to strike fear into the heart of any defenseless minority.” Flanders sponsored the motion to censure McCarthy, which passed by a vote of 67-22.
We are not seeing that kind of backbone in the Republican Party today, the principled stand that finally resisted McCarthy, except for occasional criticism by John McCain and the seemingly conscience-burdened Lindsey Graham, who also was at that White House meeting and still is shocked—shocked!—that his golfing pal the president said bad words and reneged on an immigration deal with Graham and Senate minority whip Dick Durbin.
And yes, there have been the critical remarks of lame duck Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, even though each man has continued to back much of the Trump hard right agenda. On Wednesday, Jeff Flake went on the attack from the Senate floor and defended the press against Trump’s own calumnies: “It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies.”
Tough and well said, but just talk. The GOP, which once upon a time held some semblance of principle, has become the Go Along to Get Along Party, agreeing with whatever Trump says and thinks (and a lot of them really do agree with him), as long as it helps grease the way toward perpetuating a white-dominated plutocracy.
We have a local anchorman here in New York, Pat Kiernan, who has been reporting at the all-news NY1 channel since 1997. The other day he upended his usual reading of the headlines to mention Trump’s “shithole” remarks and say:
If this is the President’s lens on the world, then that’s the lens being used in every decision being made at the White House. Not just immigration decisions, but this can lead to a racist decision on healthcare, a racist decision on education, a racist decision on voting rights, a racist decision on housing policy.
So there was a lot of outrage yesterday about the fact that the President was using a word that we don’t want our kids to use. To me, the outrage is the window that we have into the actual thinking of the White House [whose] policies are delivered under the Make America Great Again hat. The decisions that happened in the White House before this comment and what happens after this comment: these are the things to remember in your anger when you hear people trying to defend this.
Kiernan abandoned his customary affable recitation of the news to speak a truth that Republicans and too many others refuse to see.
He’s from Canada.