The surreal moments of involuntary nostalgia in this Trump era are a ghastly wonder: sitting down at a restaurant you last visited before; catching a snippet on TV of a movie you saw before; making brief contact with a petty worry that is all but forgotten, but that used to consume you before. And nothing plucks that buried, frayed heartstring quite like seeing our last President return briefly to the stage, and coming to grips, all over again, with the staggering juxtaposition between President Obama and the man who now occupies the Oval Office.
Last night, President Obama accepted the Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, and gave a speech that – even if he was a little rusty – was classic Obama: pensive, dignified, full of hard earned wisdom and impeccable grace. Ever the writer, President Obama weaved themes of courage and sacrifice with reflections on his time and office, his personal perspective on the Kennedy legacy, and a thinly-veiled clarion call to Republican members of Congress to grow the fuck up, and start showing some courage (yes, I convinced myself that BHO had to be one of the 7 readers of my last post – although he took my meditations on courage, made them much smarter, more eloquent, fewer curse words…).
I was struck by the emphasis on political courage, on the small acts of political courage that go unnoticed every day. President Obama couched his message in a pointed discussion about health care, highlighting the many Democrats who knew their votes for the ACA would cost them their seats, and who voted “yes” anyway. He was opaque and characteristically polite in directly attacking Republicans (again, the comparison with the guy who is still doing this every chance he gets, will knock the wind out of you), but the comparison was stark.
The Democrats who proudly sacrificed their seats by voting for the ACA did so out of a place of principle, conscience, a desire to make a mark and improve the lives of millions of Americans. What is the “principle” behind the madness the House GOP pressed through last week? As far as I can tell, most Republicans who voted for the AHCA did so because their “leader,” President Trump, stomped his feet about needing a “win.” Those Republicans – who can’t articulate an honest principle behind their vote – appear to have done some sad political calculus, that the risk of President Trump attacking them on Twitter and rallying his steadfast supporters against them, was reason enough to vote for a half-baked, immoral bill.
Our Narrative is hopelessly tied up, in real time at least, in the idea that all politicians are inherently corrupt, acting solely for their own interests, or the interests of their powerful friends. It is only after the fact, through historical hindsight, that true acts of political courage, and acts of political cowardice, are catalogued and recognized.
If, G&R willing, we come out on the other side of this calamity, history will not be kind to the Republicans’ lack of courage with regards to health care. But history will be far crueler when it contemplates Republicans’ uniform cowardice in failing to respond with even the slightest bit of backbone to the worst instincts of President Trump.
Today, of course, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, and confirmed that she had warned the White House that former NSA Michael Flynn was potentially compromised by Russian intelligence. The Trump Administration allowed Mr. Flynn to serve as NSA for 18 days after Ms. Yates delivered that warning, only cutting ties with him after news of his duplicity was reported by the Washington Post.
This is startling, deeply troubling information – and was just the tip of the iceberg in an eventful hearing – but the response of committee Republicans was not to dig deeper into the increasingly grave concerns regarding Russian attacks on the United States. Instead, committee Republicans dissembled, muddied the waters, tried to undercut the witness with bullshit attacks and insinuations. Republicans ignored the red flags about Russian attacks on our democracy and our government, and instead fixated on who leaked the information regarding Mr. Flynn (if the information hadn’t been leaked, he would likely still be NSA today…maybe they want to give that person a medal?); on bullshit, Trump- and cable news-fueled conspiracies regarding beloved Republican boogie-woman Susan Rice; and of course – courtesy of America’s favorite sniveling coward Ted Cruz – on Hillary Clinton’s emails. And all of this, again, for no apparent principle other than to provide political cover for President Trump.
This failure to stand up to an existential threat to American security and American values is pure cowardice. And if, G&R willing, we survive, history will see it that way. Which makes you wonder whether these fucking cowards are just hopelessly short-sighted (a fair possibility), or whether their goal, like their odious standard-bearer’s, is to batter and bruise America, to wear us down with lies and constant dissembling, until honor and courage is not something even history expects of our public servants?
It’s hard to see Barack Obama these days; the juxtaposition can be too painful. But we are losing touch with the essential principles of our democracy every single day, and the Republican Party seems shockingly, tragically, okay with that.
So thanks Obama. Thanks for reminding us that we can, and should, expect more, always. Please come again soon.