An Open Letter to Republicans
Blogger’s Note: This post is roughly a ten minute read, over double the amount of time I normally ask you to endure. As many of you know, I started a second blog, Matters of Conscience, nearly two years ago to keep A Napper’s Companion as free from controversy as possible. In other words, no politics here. The events of recent days have most certainly involved politicians, but what is happening before our national eyes goes far beyond politics. So accept this friendly word of caution: If you don’t want to know my convictions, please take a pass on what follows.
July 18, 2018
Dear Members of the Republican Party:
I write to you in a spirit of friendship, asking you to reflect upon your support of the President of the United States and his party. You might say that, though your affiliation is Republican, you aren’t part of Donald Trump’s base. That may be true, but a Gallup Poll taken in June of this year showed a 90% approval rating of the President among members of your party. If this figure is accurate, the obvious question becomes, “What exactly would Donald Trump have to do for you to part company with or seek to reform the 90% who say, “I approve”?
Before speaking my piece, I’ll share a couple of preliminaries. First, this letter is addressed to Republicans, not necessarily to conservatives. Those who stand to my right on politics, economics, and social issues have legitimate, well-considered opinions, which I can respect. Jennifer Rubin, David Brooks, Michael Gerson, George Will (who joined other comrades of note in leaving the Republican Party), the recently deceased Charles Krauthammer, even the disputatious Jonah Goldberg are among my conservative sparing partners. I appreciate these commentators because, while they often frustrate me, their intellects far surpass mine, and their intentions are noble.
Second, I ask you to take note of the tu quoque (“you too” or “look who’s talking”) fallacy, which paralyzes many arguments. Hypothetical example: I say to my teenage son, “You keep smoking you’ll end up with cancer.” He responds, “Who are you to talk? You kept Marlboro in business when you were my age.” He isn’t out of line in pointing out parental hypocrisy, but in terms of our exchange, the old man’s reckless youth in no way validates his kid’s carcinogenic habit.
Tu quoque (too-kwoh-kwee): I bring up this bit of Latin to draw a conversational boundary: A thousand examples of misbehavior on the part of the Democratic Party and its past Presidents don’t answer for the sins of today’s Republican Party and its President. I would be glad at some future date to put each party’s offenses side by side and hold deliberations.
At some future date, but not now. Two days ago, July 16, 2018, President Donald Trump did something uniquely threatening to our Republic, whose Constitution he has pledged to “preserve, protect and defend.” Some Americans would argue that he has habitually violated his oath. The breaking point for millions was the separation of immigrant families trying to enter the United States via our southern border. Whatever the legal justification for the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, its execution felt to this Pennsylvanian like a defilement of our national spirit. Hasn’t history taught us that interment camps not only wound the detainees but also permanently tarnish the legacy of a nation that herds human beings?
Pressure from both sides of the aisle led to a de facto change in policy, which raised hopes that the Republican Party’s standard-bearer had, perhaps, learned something from the forced relocation and incarceration of over 100,000 Japanese during World War II. Or maybe that he had found the humility to acquire any wisdom at all. But then came July 16, 2018. Is it alarmist to claim that this is “a date which will live in infamy”?
December 7, 1941—I trust you know—was a bloody, explosive day. This Monday, on the other hand, dawned with stealth, its potential harm to American sovereignty obscured by the vitriolic routine that has numbed and exhausted God only knows how many citizens.
Like other news junkies, I’ve listened for an encouraging reaction from anybody with the power to effect change. Obviously, I’m not talking about equivocations or euphemisms. I mean Republican men and/or women in Washington, D.C., and from sea to shining sea who might step forward and take an oath of conscience, that our expression of “government of the people, for the people, by the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
But, my apologies, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I haven’t spelled out exactly why I’m reaching out to you, my Republican sisters and brothers. On July 16th, President Donald Trump stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, and blinked. Given several opportunities to defend the conclusions of multiple United States intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with our country’s 2016 elections, he said instead, “All I can do is ask the question—my people came to me, Dan Coats [the President’s Director of National Intelligence] came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be but I really want to see the server but, I have confidence in both parties.”
Let’s pause for a moment. If you are in your fifties, did your elementary school hold “retention drills,” as mine did in the late 1960’s and early 70’s? At the siren’s shriek, my classmates and I huddled under our desks and waited. The adrenaline jolt stayed with me for hours. If you have no memory of the U.S.S.R., the Cold War, or a world set on edge by despots, consider yourself fortunate. At the same time, please don’t dismiss the warnings of those who know well the very real danger of nuclear war and leaders who are—there is no other word—evil. The Russian President, whom Donald Trump treats with flaccid deference, never hesitates to silence his opponents in grizzly fashion. Nor does North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, who neutralizes anybody threatening his reign or committing the slightest infraction, including his own brother. Nobody in the international community denies Putin’s and Kim’s treachery, except the principles themselves when so moved. What does it matter, though, among those who lie as effortlessly as they breathe?
To most discerning Americans, plenty of them Republican, Donald Trump’s relationship with factual truth is troubled at best. Liberals like me struggle to understand his high approval ratings when he constantly tells bold and transparent lies. One website with decidedly liberal leanings reported in June of 2017, “Trump supporters know their candidate lies, but that doesn’t change how they feel about him.”
So I ask you, “Do you believe that your President frequently lies? And if so, is this okay with you?” If you answered “no” to the first question, you and I are so far apart in how we understand the world around us that reading on will probably be a waste of your time. But if you accept that determining Donald Trump’s truthfulness at any given moment is a vexed effort, you and I might have enough common ground for fruitful conversation.
Let’s face it, the course of human events allows for a lot of reasonably harmless falsehoods. Most misleading statements and outright lies taken individually won’t break a stable nation’s back, but the cumulative weight of them can be crippling. In decisive moments, when the world is watching, a President’s words can crush his country’s spirit and bring his constituents—even the loyal opposition—to their knees.
This is precisely where we find ourselves on July 18, 2018. Speaking plainly: A case can be made for Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, but standing shoulder to shoulder with him in a press conference and throwing his own people under the bus is beyond redemption. To face cameras at all, let alone with levity, is to deny the elephant in the room—that the United States President has privately broken bread with an unrepentant murderer.
And on this stage to take the unmistakable position that a dictator speaks the truth while thousands of his own public servants in the intelligence community are incompetent is unforgivable and, most importantly, cast in stone. Some statements simply can’t be walked back. Following the initial shock of Monday morning, we Americans are now asked to believe Trump’s correction, issued on Tuesday: “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’ sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good.”
Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said this morning on National Public Radio, “Most people saw [Trump’s explanation as] sort of like the dog ate my homework excuse a kid might give.” His double negative “my bad” is so insulting to our national brain that it actually compounds his offense, but at this point Republican leaders appear content to let Trump himself slide while shaking their fists at Russia. My question is, “Are you, a Republican, willing to let Donald Trump and other party leaders slide?”
Of course, I’m asking you to consider more than loyalty to one man whose betrayal that has melted the hearts of snowflakes like me and frozen in their tracks thousands of dedicated governmental workers who have made a vocation of protecting America’s liberty and autonomy.
Dear Republicans, your country needs you right now. President Donald Trump, the United States Senate and House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court are all controlled by your party. Recent events along the United States’ southern border and in Helsinki have taken place on your watch. Whether you take leave of your party or choose the honorable path of fighting for its soul, I implore you to speak with courage, clarity and ardor to preserve the values that give our imperfect Union any right whatsoever to call itself great.
Maybe it’s your turn to march. Maybe we should march together. The eyes of history are on all of us.
With sincere affection and expectancy,
Pastor John Coleman
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America