Grand Old Party or Guilty Old Party? The Complicity of Republican Lawmakers in the Age of Trump

As citizens, we put our trust in elected officials to uphold the values we hold most dear.  We expect them to stay true to our morals, protect our rights, and do what’s best for the public – regardless of partisan loyalties.  And most of all, we expect them to hold the president accountable.  Especially now.

Through his belligerent tweets, attempts to delegitimize the free press, blatant disregard for the truth, nativist politics and just plain bullying, President Trump has proven time and time again that he is a poor leader and an even poorer representation of American values.  Now more than ever, America needs its lawmakers to take a stand.  But the age of Trump drags on, Republicans have seemingly fallen through on their obligation to defend our democracy, instead choosing to sit back and – literally – watch it unfold.

You don’t have to look far to find the reason behind the GOP’s complicity.  Party politics often trump rationality and human decency on both sides of the aisle.  News outlets frequently leak reports of Republicans’ ~private~ disapproval of Trump, yet politicians seldom convey these concerns publicly.  Rationalizations such as “if I took the time to criticize everything the president said, I’d be busy all day” have become the GOP’s best friend in the age of Trump.  Their criticisms are few and far between, always taking the form of words rather than political action.  By laying low, they enable the president’s bigotry, lies, and childish behavior, their own prospects for reelection always in the back of their minds.

Some GOP senators such as Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, as well as Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, have in fact taken to the public stage to denounce Trump’s presidency.  And while many – including myself – find this admirable, these men constitute only three of 52 Republicans in the Senate.  There are supposedly dozens more who share these concerns – Sen. Corker, who has accused Trump of “debasing” the nation, asserts that “the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here.”  Similarly, Sen. Flake, a longtime Trump critic, has long held that his party is “in denial” about President Trump, urging his fellow lawmakers to speak up and end their “accommodation of the unacceptable.”

“Too often, we observe the unfolding drama along with the rest of the country, passively, all but saying, “Someone should do something!” without seeming to realize that that someone is us. And so, that unnerving silence in the face of an erratic executive branch is an abdication, and those in positions of leadership bear particular responsibility.”

-Arizona Senator Jeff Flake

In politics, words mean very little if they don’t lead to action.  Cue the age-old saying: actions speak louder than words.  And in Congress, it’s apparent that party speaks louder than principle.  It’s one thing to speak out against President Trump’s policies – but it’s quite another thing to vote against them.  Take the July Obamacare repeal bill(s) for example.  Leading up to the vote, a significant number of Republican senators expressed concern about the contents of the bill, publicly denouncing it as a ‘fraud’ and a ‘disaster’.  But in the end, they stayed loyal to their party, ultimately voting in favor of the bill despite the many costs it threatened to impose upon their constituents.

In light of all of this, I can only wonder – GOP senators, with whom does your loyalty lie?  When push comes to shove, who will you choose to protect?  Your party or your people?  Democracy simply does not work if elected officials don’t do their part to uphold it.  Enabling a president’s reckless behavior can result in potentially unchecked power – that’s how despotism surfaces.  If you love America as much as you say you do, then why won’t you fight to protect it?

With all due respect Senators, you will never ‘make America great again’ by sitting idly and enabling the demise of the institutions that made it great in the first place.  Your office gives you an obligation to defend democracy and protect the people who helped you get there – not your Republican allies, but your constituents. Compromising principle in favor of partisan loyalty, normalizing the endless stream of lies and indecency, abdicating political and moral responsibility in efforts to sustain your own incumbency – to engage in such flagrant complicity is dishonorable and a disservice to the American people.

The clock is ticking on a presidency that has long been on the brink of implosion.  But time has not yet run out – no matter how damning the silence, it’s never too late to do the right thing.  And so, I suggest: be more like Jeff Flake.  Be more like John McCain.  Be more like Bob Corker.  American democracy is calling your name… will you answer?

Article Written By: Paige Masten

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