Each and every day, our president trashes something important to the survival of the longest functioning democracy in the world.
Our independent judiciary is an essential part of our “checks and balances” structure. For Donald Trump, it is simply an irritant to be overcome by appointing as many extremist, accommodating judges into lifetime positions as he can. He praises courts that affirm him and condemns any and all courts and judges that rule against him. Trump believes a respected Indiana-born judge cannot render a proper decision because he is “Mexican.” Outside of the racism, in Trump there is no respect for the rule of law.
Trump’s executive branch is a fiefdom, not a public responsibility. His appointees don’t work for the American people, they work only for Trump. He has chosen sycophants and made “acting” appointments that don’t require Senate confirmation, avoiding constitutional checks and balances.
First Amendment rights of free speech and press are institutional pillars of American democracy. Jefferson’s marketplace of free ideas is constantly under Trumpian assault. Reasonable and measured debate have been replaced by 5 a.m. stream-of-consciousness tweets.
Congress was created in 1787 as the primary bulwark against the emergence of a tyrannical ruler. Trump has lawlessly refused to recognize Congress’ constitutional oversight role, directing his people not to honor congressional subpoenas. The Founding Fathers' greatest fear is closer — a president who would be king, above the law.
Trump just reached a new low by tweeting out a racist rant against four women of color, all elected to Congress. He then doubled, tripled and quadrupled down on the affront to our national values. But most Republican leaders justified it or slinked silently, without comment, to their sideline holes.
However, Montana’s two GOP Congress members — U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Congressman Greg Gianforte — weren’t silent; they were complicit.
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Gianforte amplified Trump’s rationale, citing “extreme liberal Democrats” in Congress and “standing against socialism,” as if philosophical or political differences could justify Trump’s “send her back” attack.
Daines’ immediate supportive tweet dived deeply into Trump’s hatred swamp, concluding with a penultimate “I stand with” Trump. Daines charges the four members of Congress as “anti-American,” which was amplified by Daines’ chief of staff posting an American flag and the words “America Love It Or Leave It.”
Daines’ “anti-American” claim against anyone with whom he and Trump disagree echoes another tragic chapter in our history — a chapter that Trump, Daines and Gianforte seem to yearn for. In the early 1950s, Sen. Joe McCarthy abused and harmed thousands of Americans for what they said, what they thought and who they hung out with. Just like today, in that shameful historically discredited search for communists and anti-Americanism, Republican leaders either supported McCarthy or cowered in silence.
But in 1950 Maine Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith stood almost alone against McCarthyism. While unhappy with the Democratic Truman administration, she said it would be disastrous to replace it with “a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty.” She didn’t “want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny: Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”
Senator Smith’s “Declaration of Conscience” outlined the basic principles of Americanism: 1. the right to criticize, 2. the right to hold unpopular beliefs, 3. the right to protest, and 4. the right of independent thought — the very things Trump/Daines/Gianforte assault today. Is the price of courage and integrity too high a price for today’s GOP?
History recognizes Margaret Chase Smith’s courage and integrity. Are there voices of conscience among GOP leadership today? Surely and sadly, not from Daines or Gianforte.