Even before the tragic events in Charlottesville in which Heather D. Heyer was killed when white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. rammed his car into a group of protestors, two Republican senators, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, were speaking out against President Trump’s failure to address the rising hate groups gaining national attention.
Sen. Flake, in a powerful commentary in Politico July 31: “… We conservatives mocked Barack Obama’s failure to deliver on his pledge to change the tone in Washington even as we worked to assist with that failure. It was we conservatives who, upon Obama’s election, stated that our No. 1 priority was not advancing a conservative policy agenda but making Obama a one-term president .… It was we conservatives who were largely silent when the most egregious and sustained attacks on Obama’s legitimacy were leveled by marginal figures who would later be embraced and legitimized by far too many of us. It was we conservatives who rightly and robustly asserted our constitutional prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government when a Democrat was in the White House but who, despite solemn vows to do the same in the event of a Trump presidency, have maintained an unnerving silence as instability has ensued. To carry on in the spring of 2017 as if what was happening was anything approaching normalcy required a determined suspension of critical faculties. And tremendous powers of denial.”
Flake cited Michael Gerson, a conservative columnist and former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, who said, “The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased,” and conservative institutions “with the blessings of a president … have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion.”
He reminded readers that in the past both parties “felt an institutional loyalty that would frequently create bonds across party lines in defense of congressional prerogatives in a unified front against the White House, regardless of the president’s party.
“History,” Gerson added, ”is watching us all.”
Now we have a period of dysfunction that Flake says is “amplified by the internet and our growing sense of alienation from each other and we lost our way and began to rationalize away our principles in the process.” He added, “If ultimately our principles were so malleable as to no longer be principles, then what was the point of political victories in the first place?” He concluded by calling for his party to speak to the whole GOP audience and get back to governing with the traditional forms of debate in the Congress.
Flake Is Right
Sen. Lyndsey Graham, a prominent member of the Armed Services Committee, told Trump to “listen to his generals” regarding Trump’s idea of removing troops from Afghanistan. “If we were to pull all our troops from Afghanistan, it would be a disaster for our national security interests and set the stage for another 9/11 on American soil .… At the end of the day, Afghanistan is about American homeland security — not building empires.”
Graham Is Right
And after Graham also criticized Trump for his remarks about the Charlottesville events, Trump called Graham a “publicity seeking” lawmaker “… who is weak on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!”
This is the typical response from Trump and his supporters: Don’t address the issue, attack the speaker.
Fox News commentator Sean Hannity responded to Sen. Flake, who said the president and the GOP “has lost its way” and was embracing “an anti-immigration fervor.” “No Senator, you’ve lost your way,” Hannity said. “Instead of trying to sell your books, maybe, Senator, you should be focusing on lowering Obamacare premiums.” Hannity continued, “The Never-Trumpers like Sen. Flake … don’t seem to understand that by blocking the president’s agenda, you see the reaction he gets when he goes around the country, they’re only harming the American people.”
Same as above: attack the speaker, don’t address the topic.
Trump’s comments about Charlottesville and most other matters are nearly always amplified by Hannity and others at Fox News. The network was influenced largely by Roger Ailes, who made Fox into a powerful and intimidating force for conservatives that mixed opinion into news. He was forced out last year in a sexual harassment scandal and died in May. The network, owned by Rupert Murdoch, has been soundly criticized by professionals as “decidedly unfair and imbalanced,” a takeoff on the network’s claim as “fair and balanced.”
At the same time, James Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox and son of Rupert Murdoch, denounced racism and terrorists after Charlottesville, and announced he and his wife will give $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League. He said in emails — obtained by The New York Times — to friends that, “I can’t believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists. Democrats, Republicans, and others must all agree on this, and it compromises nothing for them to do so.” He urged others to do the same.
A number of politicians, Republican and Democrat, are wondering if Trump has the mental fitness to be President. Senators Jack Reed, Democrat, and Susan Collins, Republican, were heard joking about whether Trump was crazy and Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, has questioned Trump’s mental stability. In addition, Brian Stelter of Reliable Sources, commented that Trump’s first and second comments about who was at fault in Charlottesville have left the press and others wondering just how to handle what he says. “His actions have been described as un-presidential, unhinged and sometimes even crazy. That word crazy can be interpreted several different ways. It gets said more in private than on TV,” Stelter said.
Today we watch discussions on Trump’s failure to show any sign of concern or empathy, mostly, I think, because he has none. He won support from voters who were justifiably concerned with the lack of jobs, their inability to get ahead as in decades past, and who live with anger and distrust for how the world as they knew it is disappearing. And with that, we now suffer the demise of logic in public thinking that results from instantaneous messaging requiring only physical use of the fingers and little involvement with the brain. Anyone can say anything to everyone on the internet, that ubiquitous information system without editors. I worry that all of us 60 or older who grew up without smart phones and the like may be the last generation of people of any party who can actually think through an issue without reading from a phone while in a conversation.
For Further Reading
• Former GOP Senator Calls for Trump’s Removal, https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/8/9/1688121/-Former-GOP-Senator-Calls-For-Trump-s-Removal
• Republicans, This Is Your President, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/16/opinion/republicans-president-donald-trump.html?mcubz=0&_r=0
• The Other Inconvenient Truth – The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/opinion/republicans-white-supremacy-charlottesville.html
• Fox’s James Murdoch Slams Trump’s Charlottesville Response, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/fox-s-james-murdoch-slams-trump-s-charlottesville-response-n793776
• Why did Charlottesville carnage happen? Because we lie to ourselves, http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article166945412.html#navlink=SecList
Lyle Harris, a former reporter in Washington, D.C., is Journalism Professor Emeritus, Western Washington University.