OP-ED: Republicans can rise to the challenge of electoral consequences
Seventy years ago, in the southwest ventricle of America’s heartland, just 119 miles up U.S. 25 from El Paso, little old Hot Springs, New Mexico, proudly renamed itself after a hugely popular American radio quiz show.
And that’s how Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, ended up with a name celebrating two concepts that America’s 45th president doesn’t grasp and clearly doesn’t give a damn about.
In the last week, Americans saw and heard for themselves the sad truth about the consequences of their president’s most selfishly reckless conduct. We discovered Trump’s torrent of mean-spirited words and deeds can be not just damaging but downright deadly — quite literally. We saw him say and do things that can endanger not just his political enemies, but also his working-class followers and even his closest and richest bankrollers.
Trump does whatever he wants, whenever he wants — just because it makes him feel good. He does these things without regard to the consequences his selfish acts will inflict upon others.
So, a week ago Thursday, Trump went up to a fundraising event at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club with many of his richest followers. He went even though he knew his close adviser Hope Hicks had tested positive for COVID-19. And you would be right to assume he probably knew he had it too when he went there to hobnob with pals who paid as much as $280,000 for the privilege of being closely hobbed and nobbed. (You should assume that because his White House has refused to give you his test results that would say it ain’t so.)
The next day, Trump, a COVID-19 patient in distress, was rushed by helicopter a few miles up Wisconsin Avenue to Walter Reed military hospital. But Sunday, Trump staged a TV photo op where he would at least look healthy — stunning medical experts by endangering his security and other aides who rode with him in his armored SUV so he could look good and wave at his fans. On Monday, Trump whipped off his mask as he strode into his public housing home, endangering all who wait on him or protect him. By then, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. had become a pandemic petri dish. Many aides were quarantined with COVID-19.
Most recently, his Supreme Court nominee unveiling became a maskless mini-spreader event. At least 18 famous attendees now have COVID-19. For months, Trump bullied governors to open schools, churches, restaurants, bars and workplaces — all violating his White House and agency guidelines. And all year, his staff jammed thousands of maskless supporters into superspreader campaign rallies that looked great on TV. America’s soaring death rates were a failure that stunned the intelligent world.
Then on Thursday came BREAKING NEWS from Michigan — and we discovered a different potentially deadly reality. Heroic efforts by the FBI foiled a devastatingly detailed plot by domestic white supremacist terrorists to kidnap (and maybe kill) Michigan’s courageous Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who had long been targeted by Trump’s most incendiary name-calling. Why? Because she had done what all the smart officials in Western industrialized countries had done — moved to shut down schools and public facilities to curtail a surging COVID-19. Trump’s response, in April, was to tweet: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”
And most tragically, the impact, while sudden, came as no surprise. Many of us have been warning, in columns and elsewhere, that Trump’s incendiary name-calling at rallies — pointing at political enemies and at journalists who cover presidents — would someday trigger an act of violence. Maybe even assassination. I have warned that Trump’s worst words would incite criminal conduct by the worst locked-and-loaded far-right terrorists who are sure Trump is signaling them when he taunts.
Trump, pushed to denounce the white supremacists during his debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, instead declared: “Stand back and stand by.” That night one extremist group celebrated by making a poster of it.
You won’t be surprised that Trump’s response had nothing to do with remorse. It was a barrage of anti-Whitmer tweets. “Governor Whitmer of Michigan has done a terrible job,” one began. Another ended: “Governor Whitmer – open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches.”
Trump’s polls are dropping. His panic is rising. Trump’s only real hope now is that his opponent will do something stupid. His one final desperation ploy is to sabotage America’s democracy by refusing to accept the result of any election he fails to win. Patriotic and caring Republicans can and must ultimately rise to their next challenge of remaking their once-Grand Old Party. They too know the ultimate truth of our democracy: the dangerously un-American conduct they have witnessed on their news screens will produce electoral consequences we must all patriotically accept.
— Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.