Democracy Dies in Darkness

Post Partisan | Opinion

The GOP’s cowardice problem

September 7, 2018 at 9:26 AM

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The anonymous "senior Trump administration official" published in the New York Times owes a few more answers to the American people, media critic Erik Wemple says. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

By now, you’ve probably read the New York Times op-ed by an unnamed “senior official” in the Trump administration who tells readers that President Trump is so manifestly unfit for office, Cabinet members at one time discussed invoking the 25th Amendment. Instead, the author and like-minded individuals in the administration have decided to work from within to thwart the president’s worst impulses. “We will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.”

We are, apparently, supposed to entrust our fate as a nation to a group of White House staffers so brave, so courageous, so willing to accept the consequences of their beliefs, they can’t even come together publicly, using their names and prestige to make the case. Instead, they carp anonymously and, according to Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House”, resort to sneaking problematic documents off of Trump’s desk when he’s not in the Oval Office.

I’ve met third-graders who demonstrate more courage. As Patricia Roberts-Miller, a professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Texas at Austin put it, “Basically, this coward has done an anonymous negative yelp review on Trump.

For the past several decades, Republicans spend a lot of time implicitly – and sometimes not so implicitly – dismissing their opponents as wimps. Real men hunt, eat lots of red meat and, whatever they do, as a popular satirical book of the 1980s put it, they don’t eat quiche. But, as it turns out, the real cowards in our public life are Republicans, who talk tough but won’t accept any risk that could cause them political damage.

Like a fish that rots from the head down, the GOP’s problem begins at the top. Donald Trump may have turned “You’re fired” into a slogan and play the bully on television, but he is so averse to difficult personal confrontations, he has fired high-ranking staffers in ways that can be described only as both insulting and cowardly. He let James B. Comey discover his time as head of the FBI had come to an end via a television report, later sending an aide with a letter to confirm it. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson learned his time in office ended when Trump announced it on Twitter.

In Congress, Republicans eager to rip health care away from millions of Americans via the repeal of the Affordable Care Act have stopped holding town halls with their constituents after many of those sessions turned contentious, with men and women passionately and angrily pointing out that they could die without access to health insurance.

And those few GOP members of Congress who make a practice of regularly decrying the Trump presidency are almost all talk and no real action. There is Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who opines on the “destructiveness” of Trump’s politics, but votes for the president’s policies the vast majority of the time. Instead of fighting for his views, Flake has announced he will not run for reelection.

Or take Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who feels so strongly about the decline of Americans parents’ abilities to teach their children how to handle difficult tasks that he wrote a book called “The Vanishing American Adult.” Just this week, Sasse criticized the president on social media again, tweeting that Trump’s attempt to bully the Justice Department over corruption charges against two Trump-supporting congressmen was the sort of stuff that occurs in “some banana republic.” When it comes to a substantive stand against the president though, he’s nowhere to be seen.

Former Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer recently noted that the GOP need for votes to confirm Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court gives anti-Trumpers even more leverage to back up their words with actions. But will these apostates actually do something difficult that might require some sacrifice? You must be joking.

It’s a Congress of Republican sneaks. Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) allegedly chose to shield his family from a stock loss by resorting to insider trading, rather than letting anyone close to him take the hit. Rep. Duncan Hunter’s (R-Calif.) first response to the charges against him for campaign corruption? Blaming his wife. (Good luck with that strategy! There’s evidence Hunter engaged in affairs with five women in the filings.)

Then there is the collective sneakiness involved in Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Instead of opening as much of his record up to review as possible, the White House, with Senate Republicans’ help, is shielding huge portions of the guidance he issued during his time serving in the George W. Bush administration. It seems all but certain they are afraid the documents will reveal that Kavanaugh disagrees with a majority of Americans on controversial issues such as abortion. So much for standing up for one’s beliefs. (On that note, Kavanaugh’s apparent turning away from the outstretched hand of a father of a Parkland, Fla., shooting victim was not exactly a courageous act either.)

To take action is to risk losses, both personal and political. It is to accept that behavior, no matter how right or correct, carries personal consequences. It is to stand up for what you believe in, even knowing you might not ultimately prevail. It is, in a word, brave. The Republicans who would have us believe they are mounting an effective resistance to Trump should think about that.

Helaine Olen is a contributor to Post Opinions and the author of "Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry." Her work has appeared in Slate, the Nation, the New York Times, the Atlantic and many other publications. She serves on the advisory board of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

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