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Opinion Sasse speaks truth to power

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Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) took to the Senate floor yesterday to speak on the increasingly bleak human rights situation in Russia. It was among the most thoughtful and eloquent floor speeches in recent memory, confirming his role as a leading figure in the thinking-man’s GOP.

“Russia’s parliament, the Federal Assembly, has just approved so-called anti-terrorism legislation that actually criminalizes free speech and that attacks religious liberty,” he explained. “If President Putin signs this into law in the coming weeks, it will be illegal for Christians to share their faith outside of a church building, as if faith is constrained by the four walls of a structure and belief to a single day of the week.”

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One cannot help but see the contrast with Donald Trump, who venerates Vladimir Putin for all the wrong reasons. “We are witnessing a rising authoritarianism in a declining state. Moscow repeatedly and routinely tramples the rights of the press, tramples on free speech, tramples on assembly, on dissent and national sovereignty,” Sasse said. “Ask the families of murdered journalists. Ask the student groups facing intimidation. Ask the political dissidents who fear imprisonment. Ask the Ukrainian people who fear being fully overrun.” Trump, of course, is either unaware or indifferent to such inconvenient truths about his role model and fellow bully. Sasse, by contrast, sees Putin for exactly who he is: “Because Putin and his cronies think that they can make Russia great again by hoarding wealth, by abusing power, and by crushing any and all opposition. They strike the pose of a strongman but this is not real strength.” It’s not coincidental that he uses the phrase “great again.”

Sasse then went on to explain what the U.S. should be doing:

Americans well understand that it is not our national calling – nor is it within our power – to attempt to right every wrong in a broken world.
But we should be clear about what is happening – as well as the fact that there is no easy fix here. It is naive to hope that Russia can be reformed with a reset button or with promises of future “flexibility.”
Instead, we need to begin telling the truth about an increasingly aggressive actor on the global stage. Again, let me be explicit: The U.S. does not have a solemn obligation to try to make the entire world free but we absolutely do have an obligation to speak on behalf of those who are made speechless in the dark corners of this globe.

Put differently, America is and continues to be great because we are good, and the United States stands for eternal values (liberty, self-determination, etc.). Sasse understands the essence of strength: “Putin has a desire to squeeze down on civil society, on other venues for discussion and debate, and on other institutions outside of politics where human dignity can and should be expressed. He does this and he desires this not because he is strong, but because he is weak.”

Sasse reminds us that the essence of leadership is not a candidate’s position on a checklist of issues. Leadership rests on character — humility, honesty, courage, kindness and empathy. The 2016 presidential election is demoralizing for many of us because we have no one to vote for who remotely fits that bill. Worse, we’re not sure the American people would recognize and support such a candidate if he or she came along.