By this time, any American even minimally interested in politics is aware of the speech made a week or so ago by Senator Jeff Flake. Flake took to the Senate floor to announce that he would not be running for re-election, because in the party of Trump, such a campaign would require him to go down “a path I’m not willing to take.”
Vox reported on the speech and its reception.
“Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified,” he said, referencing President Trump. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”
Flake’s remarks were met with a standing ovation from those in the room, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN), who have both made their fair share of biting comments about the president.
“It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end,” he said.
In a stunning takedown of President Donald Trump, Flake pleaded with his colleagues to “respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values” and called the president’s behavior “outrageous” and “dangerous to democracy.”
“I will not be complicit or silent,” Flake said. “When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?”
It was a great speech. But–as many others have pointed out–it wasn’t accompanied by meaningful action. Flake has obediently voted for virtually all of the measures supported by Trump and Ryan, and worse still, he isn’t going to stay and fight.
The other two Republican Senators who have spoken out–Bob Corker and John McCain–are also leaving the Senate. It raises the question why Republicans who plan to run for re-election (many of whom we know to be equally appalled by Trump) aren’t speaking publicly.
I think we know the answer to that question. It’s what is known as a lack of cojones–not to mention integrity– when contemplating the current GOP “base.” The number of Americans who identify as Republicans keeps shrinking, but those who remain include most of the voters who still support Trump. The radicalization of the party’s base has gone so far, it has eclipsed even Senators whose own opinions lie on the far edge of sanity.
A superficially unrelated article, also from Vox, provides a window into the “thought process” (a generous description) of that base.
“We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism — philosophical, economic conservatism,” said conservative intellectual Avik Roy in an interview with Zack Beauchamp. “In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.”
The article looked at a phenomenon called “rolling coal.” The New York Times reported on it in 2016; it’s the name given to the practice of modifying a truck’s diesel engine “so that it spews thick, toxic black smoke in order to … well, to be obnoxious.”
Entire dissertations could be written about rolling coal. Even more than Trump’s ascension, it seems to perfectly capture a moment in time, an inarticulate yawp of protest from angry white men. They feel disdained and overlooked and they will blow thick black smoke in your face until you pay attention….
What FOX and talk radio have been teaching the right for decades is that native-born, working- and middle-class whites are locked in a zero-sum struggle with rising Others — minorities, immigrants, gays, coastal elitists, hippie environmentalists, etc. — and that the major institutions of the country have been coopted and are working on behalf of the Others.
There’s much more in the article, and I encourage you to click through and read it, but its relevance to the silence of so many GOP elected officials is in its description of the hostility of a significant percentage of today’s Republican base. These are voters who don’t care about policy, or civility, or traditional Republican positions. They can’t define conservatism. They just want to stick it to those “others.” In the immortal words from Network, they’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.
And they frighten–and cow– Senators and Representatives for whom job security is more important than the country, the public good or self-respect.