Senator Corker and Flake: A McCarthy Moment



Oct 25, 2017 (San Diego) We are living in historic days. We have seen now two sitting United States Senators do something that was extraordinary. Two U.S. Senators have told us “The emperor has no clothes. ° Arizona Senator Jeff Flake accused other Republican Senators of complicity and enabling a president that is breaking many norms. Flake and Bob Corker from Tennessee have voiced what we are told by media what many of their colleagues have thought of. The charges they have leveled at the feet of President Donald Trump are serious. Their call to conscience for their party and the country is critical. We are now seeing a moment where the future of our nation is at stake.

“Have you no shame?” Words were spoken during the Joseph McCarthy hearings. Came to mind as Flake spoke in the Senate. You can find the full transcript here.

This was not a question asked out of malice, or with the goal of belittling Senator McCarthy during those long-ago hearings in the 1950s. Flake asked a series of similar questions. They were no less pointed. It was an airing of grievances if you will.

It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret, because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics, regret because of the indecency of our discourse, regret because of the coarseness of our leadership, regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our — all of our — complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.

Flake knows that his party played a critical role in the coarsening of politics that he points to. This is not just in recent years. At one time this was called the politics of personal destruction. Newt Gingrich, as Speaker of the House, started this process in full. The speaker also famously ordered House Republicans to stop associating with their Democratic  counterparts after work. Breaching what were considered socially accepted norms, such as Rush Limbaugh calling Chelsea Clinton names during his radio show was one of those moments. Until then, the children of the American President were off limits. This led to increasing culture war battles that made fellow Americans the enemy, the other. We are at the end of that process. You either are with us, or against us. You are either loyal to the President, no questions asked, or you are the enemy. 

The 1990s also saw the slow transformation of the House of Representatives oversight inquiries into openly political affairs. Don’t be confused, they always have had a touch of the political. Yesterday we saw an open admission that they are nothing than a political cudgel. Devin Núñez declaring that he is opening an inquiry into Uranium sales in 2010 while ignoring the deaths of four U.S Special Forces troops in Niger are part of this pattern.  What happened in Niger on Oct 4 share many parallels, at least outwardly, with the findings of multiple Benghazi inquiries, yet this is not something that Republicans are in any rush to investigate. However, they are ready to go after things from the last Democratic Administration, for which they no longer have real oversight, unless there is a time machine in the basement. What they are doing is trying to avoid the real crisis we currently see in Washington with the usual retort, “but Obama.”

These political games are not just dangerous but are coarsening the nation and attempting to normalize this situation.

Flake told the Senate, and by extension the nation:

We must never regard as “normal” the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions; the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.

This is a remarkable moment. Flake is telling us what many of us instinctively understand. None of this is normal. This is undermining institutions. This has paralyzed institutions. This is, in short, un-American.  He did not refer to the House investigations specifically. They are part of the pattern that we have noted.

Flake never quite used the word “lie,” but he implied it heavily. We know this president lies often. They are both major and minor fibs, and at this time the word of an American President can no longer be taken at face value.  He wrote this passage, among others, pointing to this issue.

When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country and instead of addressing it goes looking for somebody to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to first look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops. Humility helps. Character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly and debased appetites in us.

There are many examples of this. Whether this is blaming the young widow of Sergeant LaDavid Johnson, for her feelings, and the president claiming she lied. Or blaming a United States Senator for becoming a prisoner of war, during a war this president refused, lied, to get out of. Or the myriad of other examples, like getting into a fight with the mayor of Puerto Rico who this president said was lying. This president has a problem with the truth. This is getting us into some serious troubles as a nation.

Then Flake pointed to the same pattern of international behavior other Republicans like Senator Bob Corker, and John McCain had stated in the past. This president is running away from the American role in the world.  This is one that greatly benefited the United States over the last seventy years. He wrote as follows:

Now, the efficacy of American leadership around the globe has come into question. When the United States emerged from World War II we contributed about half of the world’s economic activity. It would have been easy to secure our dominance, keeping the countries that had been defeated or greatly weakened during the war in their place.  We didn’t do that. It would have been easy to focus inward. We resisted those impulses. Instead, we financed reconstruction of shattered countries and created international organizations and institutions that have helped provide security and foster prosperity around the world for more than 70 years.

Now, it seems that we, the architects of this visionary rules-based world order that has brought so much freedom and prosperity, are the ones most eager to abandon it.

Flake rightfully described the role of the United States at the end of World War Two as one that built the international order. This created the world that he, and the rest of us, inherited. We have benefited from that vision. As we walk away from it, there is now a vacuum. This will be filled by those who at times wish us harm.

Now, if this was just Flake, that alone would be historic. However, Corker said on the same day that the president is debasing the nation. Corker has also questioned Trump’s fitness for the Office. Flake is just the last to wonder aloud about Trump’s character, and fitness for office Trump’s behavior is far from normal, we are told. Not since Watergate have we seen so many members of the President’s party question the ability of the president. Nor have we seen members of his own party call the president a liar. This will be a day that historians will look back on. At the end of the day, Flake tied his actions to that moment in the McCarthy hearings so long ago in a Washington Post editorial. After those long-ago hearings, his party had a  real crisis of conscience. However, Senator McCarthy had no access to the nuclear arsenal. Trump does, which leads to the worry that some in his party have voiced. The president may very well be leading the nation to nuclear war.


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