I was thinking today about my time coaching the Carroll College debate team what seems like a lifetime ago. Most of us were very liberal. There were a few conservatives, but for the most part, the team was more pro-choice than pro-life, less critical of Bill Clinton than George Bush, and more skeptical of institutions than supportive of them.
But one of the members of the team was far more conservative than the rest of the group. As a deeply religious person from a military family, he strongly defended a view that was quite alien to most of the team and even its coach who group up in small-town Montana. He challenged us with his pro-life position, attitude about same-sex marriage, and his frankly absurd view that the Clinton boom was somehow the result of Reaganomics.
Although I almost never agreed with his political views, I always admired his integrity and his willingness to put up with the slings and arrows of liberals who simply didn’t see the world the way he did. We had heated disagreements, but I know we never questioned whether he loved our country despite his disdain for Bill Clinton, just as I’m sure he didn’t believe we weren’t patriots just because we were critical of American foreign policy and the Republican leadership of the U.S. House.
We all knew that, despite our disagreements, we shared the same values about what it took for a country to remain a democratic republic: its leaders had to be bound by the rule of law and that ultimately, when push comes to shove, country has to matter more than party.
And that’s what led me to think today about the young man I coached a couple of decades ago. He’s got to be facing an incredibly difficult choice right now, one that will help define his future and that of his party and country.
As a person of intellect and principle, he must understand that President Trump is a danger, not just to the United States and its allies today, but to the very foundations of our democratic system tomorrow. Trump lies with impunity, more than any person who has ever sat in the Oval Office. He undermines our longstanding alliances, threatens those who follow the law, surrounds himself with cabinet officials who brazenly flout the law, and he thinks and speaks at the intellectual level of a 4th grader.
Trump divides us with divisive rhetoric that mocks the disabled, demonizes the poor, and stereotypes on race. He seems incapable of reading intelligence briefings or even understanding basic elements of foreign policy.
My friend surely understands that Trump is a feckless, foolish, and dangerous cretin who abuses women and ignores the law.
What comes next shouldn’t be a dilemma, but Republicans have made it one for themselves. By giving their party over so thoroughly to Trump, they’ve made it almost impossible for anyone to speak out. By embracing or ignoring his lies, excesses, and conspiratorial thinking, they’ve tied their political futures to someone who deserves neither their loyalty nor support, but turning against him after super-charging the worse elements of the conservative base could well mean an end to their political futures.
Witness the craven obeisance that local Republicans like Steve Daines and Gianforte show the President, despite their refusal to endorse him during his primary bid. Witness the pathetic sycophants in the US Senate like Ted Cruz, who falls all over himself to defend the President, even though Trump insulted his wife, insulted his integrity, and even suggested that his father had killed JFK.
Where does that leave someone lower in the Republican hierarchy who wants to make a name for himself? How can we ask ordinary Republicans, who know that Trump is a menace to all we hold dear, to exercise the courage it will take to stand against Trump and with the rule of law?
We have to ask because we must ask.
It’s time for these men and women in the Republican Party who know that their party and country are about more than the fate of this conman who has somehow found his way to the Presidency to stand up, speak with integrity, and demand the truth. They don’t have to support the impeachment of the President, but if they are truly people of conscience, they must push back against the attacks against our intelligence community and law enforcement, demand that our local and state leaders put the truth ahead of Trump, and take their party back from someone who has loyalty neither to it nor the nation.
They need to be the men and women of integrity that I know still exist in the Republican Party. They need to be the kind of people my friend was twenty years ago: a passionate defender of his worldview who cared more about our country than any political leader of it.
Eventually, the wall of Republican support around Richard Nixon fell when it became clear the nation would not accept his misdeeds, and though we have perhaps overstated the level of bipartisanship that took place back then, Republicans of conscience eventually demanded that Nixon leave office or be convicted.
Six years later, Ronald Reagan was elected President, proving that a party and a nation could survive the removal of a corrupt President. What we don’t know is whether a country can survive letting one remain in the job.
I hope—for the sake of this country, its institutions, and even the Republican Party—that leaders like my friend won’t, through their silence, force us to discover just how costly leaving one in office will be.
And that’s a price I hope Republicans of integrity like my friend just aren’t willing to pay.