Even the most objective political scientists believe we are in one of the most tribally divided periods in our history. We are as philosophically divided a nation as we have been since perhaps the Civil War. Over the past few years we’ve heard a lot about building a wall but the one wall that seems to have been successfully erected runs down the aisles of both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives.
It is breaking news when a member of either party breaks ranks with their leadership. As a result, we have seen and heard more hyper partisanship than any of us deserve. The verbal grenades that have been thrown back and forth between the partisan trenches has been a painful assault on our senses. Our confidence and trust for elected officials is at an all-time low.
Even though overheated rhetoric is part of the political currency of our time there comes a point when the proverbial camel’s back breaks with the addition of just one more straw. And that straw has become the crushing and final blow to any shred of decency and respect for the rule of law that we hoped might have been buried deep within the cold heart of the current American President.
Donald Trump’s response to a journalist’s simple question was a stunning body blow to our notion of American Democracy. In The White House Press Room, Brian Karem, the White House correspondent for Playboy, a political analyst for CNN and host of the “Just Ask The Question” podcast directed the following question to President Trump: “Will you commit to make sure there’s a peaceful transferal of power after the election?” It certainly seemed like an innocent question which should have elicited a predictable and appropriate answer. Right? No, wrong! Predictable responses perhaps, but seldom does anything appropriate come from Donald Trump.
What did the President say that plumbed the depths where only despots, anarchists and authoritarian leaders go? Trump’s words came alarmingly fast. The President said: “We’re going to have to see what happens, you know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”
Karem shot back: “I understand that, but people are rioting. Do you commit to make sure that there’s a peaceful transferal of power?”
Still Trump refused to commit. “Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation. The ballots are out of control.”
Karem later reported that “This is the most frightening answer I have ever received to any question I have ever asked. I’ve interviewed convicted killers with more empathy. Donald Trump is advocating Civil War.”
On June 9, 1954 Joseph Nye Welch was the lawyer who served as the chief counsel for the United States Army while it was under investigation for Communist activities by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, an investigation known as the Army–McCarthy hearings. Welch’s confrontation with McCarthy during the hearings, in which he famously asked McCarthy: “Senator, you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Welch’s take down is seen as a turning point in the history of McCarthyism.
The question we should all be asking ourselves and certainly the questions we should pose to those who aspire to lead is this: Where is our individual and collective sense of decency? Why is there such a paucity of civil discourse emanating from The White House, the Congress, local legislative hallways, Governors’ mansions and even those running for the farthest down of down ballot candidates? Decency seems to be in truly short supply in government these days. And if that is an indictment, then it is an indictment of leaders of both parties and their willing co-conspirators. Co-conspirators like the Majority Leader and virtually all members of his party together with the Attorney General who, by what they say, and even more so through their silence are complicit in helping to place insurmountable obstacles on the path to what the founders described when they said that the Constitution was ordained to form a more perfect Union.
But in the Olympic Games of Indecency the Gold Medal hangs around the neck of Donald Trump whose unwillingness to commit to a peaceful transfer of power regardless of the outcome of the election is a U.S. record for political indecency. Nothing comes close. Bill Clinton was impeached because he perjured himself. Richard Nixon resigned because of the cover up of an amateurish break-in at the DNC offices in the Watergate complex. But neither man threatened to do what Trump has said which suggests that he would refuse to walk out the door of The White House for the final time on January 20, 2021 should he be defeated in the November 3, 2020 election.
Would this be a treasonous act? Treason is a word that gets tossed around a lot these days. I’m not a Constitutional lawyer so I’m not able to lay the charge of treason at the President’s doorstep. But whatever it is it would absolutely undermine one of the most essential pillars of our Democracy, free and fair elections.
In 2016 then candidate Donald Trump promoting seditious warnings that his supporters would respond with “riots” if he failed to secure the nomination. He went on to say: “Riots aren’t necessarily a bad thing if it means it’s because Trump supporters are fighting the fact that our establishment Republican Party has gone corrupt and decided to ignore the voice of the people and ignore the process.”
Trump has suggested that if he loses the 2020 election armed militia might take to the streets. He has certainly lauded armed militia in the past. The threat or the prospect for militia interference during voting, or if Trump loses the election, would put him in a league with the likes of Mussolini, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and other tin pot dictators. His affection and admiration for world leaders in the International Hall of Shame appeals to his sense of greed, power and authority. Nothing about his latest repudiation of all that is sacred in our Constitution shows the slightest loyalty to the oath he swore when he took office. And so much about what he has said and done since his inauguration has served only to place enormous obstacles in the way of our 244-year journey toward forming a more perfect union.
The words that John Nye Welch used when confronting Senator Joseph McCarthy can still be faintly heard as a 66-year old echo: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Sadly, there is no John Nye Welch available today who will angrily and defiantly stare Trump in the face and utter those words. But we can each be a Welch at a time when through our own words and actions we can find ways to express our disdain and disgust for the latest defilement of the Constitution by the 45th President.
Mr. President, you certainly have done enough and I, for one, would like to know just one thing: Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?