So desperate is the political media to lionize any Republican who offers even the most illusory criticism of President Donald Trump, the mantle has now fallen squarely upon the sunken shoulders of Jeff Flake. Arizona’s junior senator, considered the most vulnerable in either party, faced almost certain defeat in a primary challenge. Instead, Flake chose to spare himself the embarrassment and retire, citing the “nastiness” of the Trump era. Media elites could hardly hide their priapisms in their pleats as Flake delivered “the most important speech of 2017” on the Senate floor Tuesday. “If I have been critical, it is because I believe that it is my obligation to do so, as a matter of duty and conscience,” Flake said. It’s worth wondering why it took 10 months of grim spectacle for the man who voted in line with Trump’s agenda 91.7 percent of the time to hear the clarion call.
So-called moderate Republicans like Flake and Bob Corker object to the president’s tone to great acclaim from a disoriented center-left. But they oppose few, if any, of his policies or appointments. Please take note, as tone means diddly-doo.
Same goes for “norms” and “mores,” the scourge of “divisiveness” and the worrisome state of the “rhetoric.” Flake and his mealymouthed ilk take refuge in these words, but the goal remains the same: the radical redistribution of wealth upwards into the hands of the ruling class. Less than 24 hours had passed before Flake, Corker, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins all voted to quash the Obama-era rule allowing consumers to join together sue banks and credit card companies—a priority of Trump and his oligarch pals. They can prattle on about decency and what is and isn’t normal, but the moment the balance of power in this country is threatened, all the mavericks of the Republican Party find little trouble falling into line. Unfortunately, nothing is more normal than that.
The most miserable sycophants of the media elite would have you believe these votes don’t matter. “[Y]ou can’t measure a member of Congress’s support for Trump just by looking at his or her floor votes,” says Vox’s Ezra Klein. It is a luxury to be concerned with such intangible things as “tone” and “norms” and take solace in these hollow moral victories. If you’re unable to afford health care for your child because CHIP has bled out, or your drinking water has been contaminated because the EPA nixed the Clean Water Rule, do you even once spare a thought for the tone of the people who helped make this nightmare your reality? Exactly when in the process of searching for records of your loved one’s sexual assault or death in ICE’s custody to no avail do you consider The Discourse?
So why divorce Republicans’ words from their complicity in Trump’s agenda? Editor David Klion has offered the best explanation I’ve seen. “The alternative is accepting that an entire political party, its supporters, and our system of government are fully complicit,” he tweeted. “That’s a bleak conclusion, that (for instance) smearing a war widow isn’t one man’s lapse but the price Republicans happily pay for tax cuts.”
You will not see any of Flake’s Republican colleagues join him in retiring in protest of the “present coarseness of our national dialogue.” Nor will you see Flake campaign for potential Democratic nominee Kyrsten Sinema. (At best, he will endorse neither her nor whatever Trump-backed human paraquat wins the Republican primary.) This is a game of chicken with no end. There is no price the Republicans are unwilling to pay, no debasement they won’t subject themselves to, as long as it means delivering tax cuts and the plunder of working people to a wealthy few.