Others have drawn a direct line between the loathsome Sen. Joe McCarthy of the Cold War era and the loathsome President Donald Trump of today.
Others have asked of Trump, as an attorney for the U.S. Army once famously asked of McCarthy, “Have you no decency, sir?”
But this week, the question was posed to the president by the leadership of the Washington National Cathedral, and it feels like a turning point. One of the most respected and nonpartisan institutions of organized religion in the United States is calling the president out. Finally.
Better still, the Cathedral’s leadership is calling out Trump’s tens of millions of see-no-evil enablers, asking, “When does silence become complicity?”
This took courage.
In the past, the National Cathedral has criticized specific Trump policies. Two years ago, it blasted his decision to ban transgender people from the military. Last summer, the Cathedral’s dean, Randy Hollerith, pointedly wrote that “scripture does not justify separating undocumented families.”
But on Tuesday, the Cathedral’s leadership — Hollerith; the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; and the Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, canon theologian of Washington National Cathedral — called out the president himself for “two years” of offensive “words and actions.”
“When,” they asked, “will Americans have enough?”
And when, we would add, will other major religious organizations so directly join the battle for a more decent White House and politics?
The longer they wait, the more they cede the ground to Trump cheerleaders who abuse the Bible to preach bigotry and intolerance.
“We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God,” the Cathedral’s leadership wrote. “We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society.
“This week, President Trump crossed another threshold,” they continued. “Not only did he insult a leader in the fight for racial justice and equality for all persons; not only did he savage the nations from which immigrants to this country have come; but now he has condemned the residents of an entire American city. Where will he go from here?
“Make no mistake about it, words matter,” they warned. “And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.”
True and powerful words, made all the more powerful by the Cathedral leadership’s refusal to let the rest of us off the hook.
In the 1950s, they reminded us, Sen. McCarthy, “under the guise of ridding the country of Communist infiltration . . . stoked the fears of an anxious nation with lies” and “bullied into submissive silence anyone who dared criticize him.”
Until, that is, June 9, 1954, when U.S. Army attorney Joseph Welch confronted McCarthy on live television and said: “Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. . . . You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”
“In retrospect,” the Cathedral’s leadership wrote, “it’s clear Welch’s question was directed less toward McCarthy and more to the nation as a whole. Had Americans had enough? Where was our sense of decency?”
And now they ask again.
Have we had enough?
“What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough?” ask the shepherds of the Washington National Cathedral. “The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.”
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