“Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
That was the famous question asked of Sen. Joseph McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, a question that finally turned the tide of public sentiment against the appalling red-baiter. McCarthy had tried to tar in public a Boston lawyer as a secret Communist, and now a lawyer for the Army was calling McCarthy out, standing up to a bully.
“At long last,” the lawyer, Joseph Welch, asked again, “have you left no sense of decency?”
The same question must be put to Donald Trump today, and we can only hope it will have the same powerful impact, resetting a nation’s moral compass. Or we are in trouble. How many more lies, threats and compulsive attacks, even against the mother and father of a soldier who died for his country, will Trump be allowed before his defenders and allies rediscover their own sense of decency and throw the bum out?
Paul Ryan? No profile in courage there. After Trump’s attacks this weekend against the slain soldier’s parents, who spoke out against Trump at the Democratic National Convention, House Speaker Ryan released one of those horribly calculated political statements, all platitudes and no guts.
“Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military and made the ultimate sacrifice,” Ryan stated. “Capt. [Humayun] Khan was one such brave example. His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honored. Period.”
We are supposed to read between the lines here. We are supposed to understand by that final word — “period” — that Ryan is very offended — just hopping mad — by what Trump said, though he never once calls out Trump by name.
So how about that, Mr. Speaker? Call out Trump by name. Quit pretending your problem is what Trump says and not the man himself. He’s your party’s presidential candidate and you endorsed him. You’re the guy who wants a man who trashes gold star families to be our next president and commander in chief.
Tell us, Mr. Speaker, how you can stand by your official endorsement of Trump now, even as dozens of other high-ranking Republicans with a conscience have scraped him off like mud on a shoe.
So, too, for Mitch McConnell. No profile in courage there, either. The Senate majority leader released a similarly weaselly statement, using both “patriotic” and “patriots” in a single pandering sentence, without mentioning Trump by name.
Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, showed more integrity on Monday, putting his country ahead of his party or his career by forthrightly condemning Trump’s trash talk. That could cost McCain right-wing votes in a tough re-election race, but he did it.
“Arizona is watching,” McCain said. “It is time for Donald Trump to set the example for our country and the future of the Republican Party. While our party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”
Then again, as critics on Facebook immediately asked, why doesn’t McCain just go whole hog and rescind his endorsement? Honestly, what more does he need to see?
In the 1950s, the tables didn’t turn on Joe McCarthy because of one unforgivable smear. He had piled up lies, veiled threats and false charges for years. By the time Welch demanded to know if McCarthy had any “sense of decency,” the indignant lawyer was speaking for a vast number of Americans who had tired of McCarthy’s fear mongering and cheap theatrics. They were ready to see him taken down.
So it goes for Trump. He’s been piling up offenses almost by the day. On a good day, he just lies, such as his claim one day last week that the National Football League sent him a letter complaining about the schedule of upcoming president debates. The NFL says it sent no such letter. On a bad day, he defends Russia’s anti-Democratic military takeover of Crimea or encourages Russia — seriously or sarcastically, either way inexcusably — to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.
But there is a sense — Or is it wishful thinking?— that this time, in his attacks on the parents of Capt. Khan, Trump has gone too far.
Humayun Khan, who was a Muslim, was killed in a suicide car bombing in Iraq in 2004. He saved the lives of other soldiers by ordering them to stand back while he alone approached the car.
On Thursday, Capt. Khan’s father, Khizr Khan, spoke out against Trump at the Democratic convention, with his wife, Ghazala Khan, standing by his side. He held up a copy of the U.S. Constitution and questioned whether Trump had ever read it, especially the parts about “liberty” and “equal protection of law.” Referring to Trump’s vow to ban Muslim immigrants, he said, “If it was up to Donald Trump,” his son “never would have been in America.”
Trump’s reaction, which is always his reaction, was to lash out at the Khans in the most personal and bigoted manner, raising the possibility — false — that Mrs. Khan was not “allowed” by her husband to speak. He said the Khans had “no right” to criticize him, suggesting a scary failure to appreciation freedom of speech. He speculated Khan had not written his own speech, though he had. And, most offensively, Trump said that he, like the Khan family, had sacrificed much for his country — working “very hard” and employing many people in his businesses.
Dying for others? That is a sacrifice for your country. Working hard to make a lot of money? That might be a sacrifice to your golf game.
Not that Trump will ever understand. Empathy and compassion are beyond him.
But to all those Republican leaders who secretly loathe Trump but refuse to call him out: Where is your sense of decency?
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