EDITORIAL: Cut-and-run criticisms fall short of leadership

York Dispatch

“(W)e must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.

“Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it is actually reckless, outrageous and undignified. When such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”

— Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

Strong words. From the floor of the U.S. Senate, no less. Delivered by a two-term senator against the president of his own party.

All we can add is, “What took you so long?”

The hesitant handwringing by a few voices in the Republican Party is hardly equal to the daily absurdities and atrocities perpetrated by the leader of their party — and the nation.

Flake’s fretting about the “state of our disunion … the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics … the indecency of our discourse … the coarseness of our leadership,” is accurate enough, but he delivered his critique in the context of announcing he won’t run for reelection next year, thus negating much of the political gravitas his pronouncements might otherwise have had.

Likewise two other GOP critics in the Senate. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee has been increasingly critical of President Donald Trump’s profanities and prevarications, but he too has announced plans to step down next year. And Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whose criticisms have been more consistent but less strident, has, sadly, likely run his last political campaign following diagnosis with a malignant form of brain cancer.

But where are the Republicans of character who still have political capital to spend? Where are those willing to pit their vision for party and country against the Trump doctrine of, as Flake put it, “divid(ing) and to attempt(ing) to bully and to use untruths”?

There have been flashes of such courage. Sens. Susan Collins, of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, for instance, stood strong against the party’s attempt this summer to derail the Affordable Care Act despite having nothing with which to replace it.

But congressional Republicans have, for the most part, failed to stand up to a president who regularly distorts the truth; insults political foes, military families and even allies online; irresponsibly taunts foreign leaders; and spends an embarrassing amount of time in front of TV screens and on golf courses.

This lack of political will comes in spite of that fact that there has been no significant legislation passed this year even though the party controls the White House and Congress.

Defenders must ask themselves, then, what is it they’re defending? And why?

That goes not only for elected officials but for the voters — like a preponderance of those in York County — who put them there.

Americans just this week saw Vice President Mike Pence deliver the tie-breaking vote allowing the GOP-led Senate to reverse a consumer-protection rule that permitted class-action suits against banks.

The administration has moved to discontinue cost-sharing payments to insurance companies, an action that threatens coverage for many low-income citizens and which Gov. Tom Wolf has blamed for causing spikes of some 30 percent for an estimated 500,000 Pennsylvanians who buy individual insurance plans.

And unless you’re among the richest of the rich, watch your wallet as the Republicans attempt to muscle through a huge tax cut they are pitching as “reform.”

It is not that lawmakers such as Flake and Corker have not adequately identified the problem. It is that they have done so on the way out the door.

To effectively take on a reckless presidency and the damage it is doing to America’s standing in the world — and democracy’s standing in America — party leaders need to decide that national integrity is more important than political expediency.

And voters need to put their own interests before loyalty to a party that has done little to improve their lot and, in many cases, much to reverse it.