I’ve talked to many [Republicans], as I know you have, and asked them, “Why are you silent? You know this is wrong. You know that you should speak out. You know what he is doing to the military.” And the answer I almost always get is, “If I do, I will lose any possibility of being an effective legislator. They’ll come after me.”
David Ignatius, September 11, 2020
Ignatius, an associate editor of the Washington Post, was responding to Joe Scarborough’s own frustration with the Republican Party, for which unconditional support for the military had been a third rail since the “Hard Hat Riot of 1970.” [See Scarborough’s op-ed in this morning’s Post, “Trump is destroying the Republican Party. Why won’t any of his peers speak up?”]
As is so often the case in politics, efforts to explain or excuse behavior often pale in comparison to the original offense. Let me translate their response into plain English.
- “I will lose any possibility of being an effective legislator,” sounds a lot like Governor William J. Le Petomane (Mel Brooks) in Blazing Saddles, “We’ve got to protect our phony baloney jobs, gentlemen!”
- “They’ll come after me,” evokes Mark Twain, “The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner.”
And as is also true, the explanations raise more questions than they answer. What do Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz, Susan Collins, etc., etc., etc., believe constitutes being “an effective legislator?” And who are the “they” who are coming after you?
But what I find most damning is the sheer lack of curiosity. Republican senators and representatives are back in “Trump Impeachment” defense mode. “I didn’t have time to read The Atlantic article.” “It relies on anonymous sources.” As though they would have a change of heart if John Kelly or James Mattis stepped before microphones and quoted Lili von Shtrupp (Madeline Kahn), “It’s twue! It’s twue.” [I apologize for all the Blazing Saddles references.]
I do not understand why individuals with first-hand knowledge of Trump’s lack of respect for military personnel, past and present, alive and dead will not publicly come forward, either way. If Jeffrey Goldberg misquoted Trump or misrepresented his behavior, those in attendance need to correct the record. But if their silence is implied confirmation, it is not enough, as it leaves the door open for deniers to question the accounts.
However, if I am Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, a decorated veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, would I not be interested in the truth? Cotton has a professional or personal relationship with each one of the military leaders whom Goldberg identifies as having been in the room (or the cemetery). How hard would it be to call them and ask, “I understand your allegiance to the armed forces code of honor and the chain of command, so I know it might be tough for you to go public about the Atlantic article. But I need to know the truth. So between the two of us, is it true?”
Why doesn’t Tom Cotton make that call? Because he already knows the answer. So he seeks a deferment from his oath of office. He needs a letter from a doctor, similar to the one Fred Trump secured for his son, that states he would serve his country but for the bone spurs (even if he could remember on which foot they were) which are too painful to allow him to be of use as soldier in the pursuit of the truth. And, he is not alone, he has 52 comrades-in-arms in the Senate and many more in the House.
Sadly, there will be no treatment or “warp speed” vaccine on November 1st for this pandemic for which the symptoms are silence and complicity. It will not go away until the root cause, cowardice and lack of character, are addressed head on.
For what it’s worth.