Dear Senator Corker, Senator Alexander, and Representative Duncan,
Commonly I have heard people who are less pessimistic than I am about self-correcting capacities in the US political system valorize a turning point in the battle against McCarthyism. In 1954 Joseph Welch famously responded to Senator Joseph McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Today when I sat down to write you about the despicable priorities encoded in Mr. Trump’s budget, and I searched for a way to salvage a shred of optimism about our country, this quotation came to mind.
I redirect these words toward you, since I believe you sincerely intend to be morally serious and thoughtful Republican leaders. However, if I understand correctly (and I hope you can change my mind!) you still have not taken unambiguous stands in opposition to Trump and all he stands for.
Of course the US had done plenty of terrible things by 1954 to lead people like Malcolm X to abandon hope for our country. Still, the resonance of public stands like Welch’s, appealing to the better traditions within US history, has seemed to me, until recently, to provide a bare minimum of rhetorical power. It has offered at least a fig leaf of credibility—and at times slightly more than this—to enable a critical mass of citizens to maintain, even if not exactly satisfaction with our country, at least enough loyalty to provide legitimacy and some reasonable confidence that the U.S. is not a failed state.
Today I fear we are flirting with this latter status—a failed government, out of control and unaccountable to common sense, that is the object of international pity, fear, and contempt. This situation is extremely dangerous and I believe that the complacency of Republican leaders and your propaganda arms like Fox News is either deeply misplaced, if sincere, or shockingly irresponsible if merely cynical. Certainly status quo policies (especially from Republicans, although including the sort of Clintonite compromises that swung the election to Trump) are utterly failing the majority of our people—especially by refusing to create an acceptable quality of work (for most young people today) or a viable ecological future (for any people from rising generations.)
Trump has already done dozens of things that merit a response like Welch’s. But perhaps that was true of McCarthy by 1954 too. The issue is when enough is enough—when a critical mass takes action, joined by some who were formerly on the fence. I urge you in the strongest terms I can convey in words. Please get off the fence! Do it for the sake of the religious morality I believe you sincerely see yourself pursuing (although it is hard for me to understand this), for the sake of loyalty to our country, or even solely for the long-term self-interest of your party.
Perhaps you will ask, “what’s new about Trump, really?” And sometimes I ask this of myself, when I think about Ronald Reagan and recall the saying that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. But today it seems to me that this sort of jaded cynicism—one that discounts Reagan’s trickle-down fantasies, race-baiting, and disregard for truth as “mere tragedy,” and then normalizes the crimes of our emperor-with-no-clothes and his abdication of responsibilities as a global leader—is worse than raising the alarm again, at whatever risk of sounding clichéd.
At some point, people of decency and intelligence, who have a sincere sense of caring for our country’s future (or even have selfish concerns for their own children!) must call a halt to the gutting and looting of everything in our society except the super-rich and the military.
I believe that what Mr. Trump is doing to our home, with no discernible serious pushback from Republican leaders, is easily worse than the crisis our country faced under McCarthyism. Let’s recall that the top income tax rate in 1954 was 90%, under Republican leadership. And is not the decade of the 1950s what Trump’s base is nostalgic for? (Granted that Trump himself might prefer a different era—perhaps the Gilded Age with child labor and starvation wages, or the hedonism and sexual license of the 1970s that Republicans used to claim to stand against?)
What Trump’s budget does to national priorities—without even a mandate from his own voting base, much less any possible justification based on majority will—is a disgrace. I have no suggestions for small-scale tinkering to make it marginally less absurd and offensive. Rather, we need to begin by impeaching Trump for his many conflicts of interests and obstructions of justice (as I have discussed in previous letters to you) and then we need a complete change in mindset about national priorities.
Please start over with comprehensive immigration reform (including a path to citizenship for DACA kids and others who in practice have been invited here to work in businesses like Trump’s), rapid expansion of health care toward Medicare for All (to save money, uphold basic human rights enjoyed by people in other countries, and address problems of Obamacare flagged during Trump’s campaign), deep cuts in U.S. military commitments (one of Trump’s campaign promises), a serious proposal (as distinct from a Trump-style scam) for expanding green infrastructure (a major part of Trump’s mandate), and a fundamental rethinking of the utterly irresponsible and immoral tax breaks to the rich. (This latter rethinking was also was part of Trump’s mandate—at least insofar as his rhetoric about it was better than the other Republican Presidential candidates.)
In the 1980s (another era Trump may wish to return to?) the distribution of wealth in our society was markedly less skewed toward the 1% compared to where it is today. Could not policy-makers provisionally agree to set this as a bipartisan benchmark? Personally I believe wealth was badly skewed even from the 1930s into the 1970s, before we began to unravel toward unchecked plutocracy in the 1980s. But could not people of goodwill forge a compromise for the sake of our country–or translated even for the most extreme libertarian, simply for the sake of not killing their golden goose? Could you not agree that defending the rule of law in our country and getting back to Reagan-era levels of inequality (which in the 1980s the left perceived as a world-historical disaster) might work as a benchmark both parties could aim for, before our entire social polity goes off the rails? Although this would be a huge concession for the left, at least it would be a step in the right direction. Indeed it would set a goal more ambitious that what centrist Democrats are asking for these days–a point I find mind-boggling, bolstering my sense that Bernie Sanders errs on the side of moderation rather than radicalism.
Thank you for considering these ideas. With each passing week it becomes harder for me to grant most Republicans the benefit of doubt, that you have a sincere sense of anything I can recognize as Christian morality, nor that you have retained any sense of patriotic or global responsibility to govern for the common good. I do try my best to grant you such sincerity. But if so, how can you possibly not be breaking with Trump’s policies—decisively and radically? It honestly makes no sense to me. Please either explain this to me, or do some soul-searching and reconsider.