Posted Thursday morning, October 26, 2017.
We don’t need another hero: “Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona at the Capitol. On Tuesday, he announced that he would not seek re-election next year.” Photo by Al Drago/The New York Times, courtesy of the New York Times.
Jeff Flake is not one hundred years old. He's a little more than half that, fifty-four. I feel a need to point that out because to judge by what he told the Arizona Republic---“There may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party..."---and his speech on the Senate floor, it almost sounds like he thinks he came of age politically with the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
But he was two years old when Goldwater declared that extremism in defense of liberty was no vice and everybody understood that liberty was reserved for white people resisting desegregation and Civil Rights for black people. He was three years old when the Voting Rights Act passed and the Republican Party welcomed in the segregationists the Democrats were driving out of their caucus.
The first president he likely remembers is Richard Nixon. The first president he voted for was Ronald Reagan. (That would have been in 1984, when Flake was twenty-two and Reagan was running for re-election. Flake missed being able to vote for him the first time by one month. His 18th Birthday was that December. ) He was an adult when the Religious Right grafted itself into the Party's nerves and sinews.
He came of age when Lee Atwater was making his bones. Willie Horton was a name he'd have known well and whose darkened face he'd have seen on TV. Newt Gingrich's career was on the rise. Jesse Helms was a grand old man in the Grand Old Party's leadership.
He was elected to Congress the same year George W. Bush was appointed president by a Republican and ideological Supreme Court. It's a damnable measure of how bad Trump is that people are nostalgic for Dubya. Folks with longer memories have been pointing out how bad Bush was but along with his failures, in fact a major cause of them, was how ideologically driven his administration was. Bush pushed one policy initiative that was somewhat progressive and decent hearted in intent, immigration reform, and Flake's Republican colleagues put the kibosh on that.
Flake is a Mormon, and in 2012 when he was running for the Senate, he watched as the Religious Right forced Mitt Romney to recant his Mormonism before it would, grudgingly, tell its faithful it was ok to vote for him. According to Wikipedia, Flake won his election because he carried Maricopa County. That would be the county where Joe Arpaio was the sheriff. Arpaio got himself re-elected that November too. It's possible then that Flake owes his Senate seat to Arpaio's coattails.
All of this happened over the span of Flake's lifetime. He was witness to the Republican Party's relentless march to the right, at first as a young spectator cheering and waving a flag on the parade route but by 2000 as part of the parade. He was there for its embrace of lawlessness---Nothing's wrong, not even torture, if a Republican does it.---its more and more overt racist appeals to a more and more angry and fear-filled base, for its becoming the party of resentment, religious bigotry, ignorance, reaction, and extremism. And yet, although he occasionally let it be known he was personally uncomfortable with it and even voted from time to time and backed legislation in defiance of party orthodoxy, he remained a loyal and reliable Republican partisan. He still is.
He sees himself as one, at any rate. It's Trump he can't stand.
And it's not just a case that he'd be fine with a President Trump who stayed off Twitter, knew how to be gracious on the phone with military widows, didn't encourage whining as the rank and file's idiom, didn't seem bent on taking us into nuclear war to settle a personal feud with a fellow madman, and kept the race baiting to a minimum and then spoke in modulated tones and used the right codes. He clearly recognizes that Trump is an awful human being and it disgusts him.
I've been seeing this question asked again and again by many folks on Liberal Twitter. If that's so, then why does he keep voting in support of Trump's agenda? The question is either politically naive or disingenuous.
Trump is morally, ethically, and personally repugnant. His politics are only part of what makes him an awful human being. His awfulness finds expression in his agenda, but he was awful before he got into politics, and he'd be awful if he'd never gotten into them. He's awful apart from the awful things he's done and wants to do as president. He’s just awful, all around.
He's personally racist and misogynistic. He's a liar, which almost goes without saying, he's a bully, he's a chisler, a scam artist, and a crook. He's irresponsible, destructive, self-indulgent, self-serving, greedy, vindictive, and cruel. You don't have to disagree with him politically to be appalled by all that and think he's a disgrace to the office and the nation. Nobody seriously argued that Democrats had to give up being Democrats to push Anthony Weiner out of Congress.
But it's not Trump's agenda Flake has been voting for and is sticking around the Senate for another 14 months to continue to vote for.
It's the Republican Corporatist agenda or what he thinks is the agenda.
And he sees Trump and the yahoo base that elected him and are taking over the party---have taken over the party---as endangering that agenda. He sees that in order to get and keep their votes, Republicans like himself have to pander to their racism, their hatreds, their fears, their ignorance and bigotries, and their sense of grievance and victimhood, and besides that disgusting him personally, he sees all that as going against the values he cherishes as conservative and Republican.
I think Flake may be mixing up his religious faith and his political principles.
Keep in mind Flake's a Mormon---no doubt Right Wing Christians do.---and unlike Right Wing Christianity, Mormonism is an optimistic and can-do faith. It also puts great value on charity, education, and communitarianism. Whining and self-pity don't seem to form a part of any Mormon's make-up. Like I said, the Reactionary and racist appeal of the GOP shouldn't have come as a surprise to Flake if he'd been paying attention, but maybe he truly didn't see it because where he grew up Republicanism and Mormonism went hand in hand, although with Mormonism leading the way.
It's not necessary to make a hero of Flake in order to admire what's done and even be a little bit grateful. He's not been that heroic, anyway. As many people have pointed out, this was a surrender. He doesn't like the yahoos and kooks that have taken over the party, but he's cleared the way for someone who is both a yahoo and a kook to replace him in the Senate. That was likely to happen anyway or least she'd be replacing him on the Republican line on the ballot come 2018. But he could have decided he wasn't going down without a fight.
It's not fair, or at any rate not reasonable, to expect someone else to make a martyr of himself for your cause. But you could argue he should be doing it for his own cause if his cause is really saving the Republican Party. Even so, it's a lot to ask of someone, that he wear himself body and soul, waste millions of other people's dollars and a year of his own life losing an election to make a point that almost certainly won't take. Either the yahoo and the kook is the junior senator from Arizona come January 2019 or a Democrat is. Either way, what Flake regards as his brand of Republicanism is finished representing his home state in the Senate.
So, it's good that while he's going down without a fight, he's not going out in silence. And in not keeping quiet he's made himself a target of Trump's wrath which means he's made himself a target of Trump's mob of voters. On top of that he is now persona non grata among his Senate Republican colleagues who have made their Faustian bargains with the devil Don. And he seems prepared to take it.
What's more is he's now opened the floor to other Republicans who are sick and disgusted with Trump. Maybe they'll start making some righteous noise. Maybe they'll band together to put up the fight for the Party's soul Flake can't wage on his own. Maybe they'll work to deny Trump renomination in 2020. Maybe they'll join with the Democrats to bring about the kind of real investigations that will drive him for office. Maybe it will lead to his impeachment and conviction.
If any of that happens, then there's reason to admire Flake and feel a little bit grateful.
But the admiration should be limited and when I say we should feel a little bit grateful I mean we should feel a little bit grateful.
Again, like I said it's not necessary for Flake or any Republican who despises Trump to become a Democrat in effect. It's something that they recognize and reject his odiousness as a human being. But it would be more admirable and warrant more and more heartfelt gratitude if Flake at least acknowledged that he has contributed to the party's rot through being true to what he regards as certain Republican and conservative principles.
In his speech to the Senate, Flake said he won't be complicit in the Trumpification of the party. But he has been complicit and not just since Trump was elected. He's been complicit since he came to Congress in making the party a home for the yahoos, racists, religious bigots, and Right Wing extremists he despises.
Flake has been a cheerful free market conservative, trusting that what's good for big businesses will be good for average Americans---that is, for the 99 percent of us who aren't rich---somehow, some way, someday, and avoiding answering the question, What are the poor and working and middle class supposed to do in the meantime. The conservative answer is and has been for at least since Ronald Reagan's day, which is to say Flake's entire adult life, That's their lookout.
Trickle down economics doesn't work because very little wealth trickles down. The rich won't let it. They want to keep it all for themselves and they hold onto it tight. Corporations aren't people, my friends, they're run by people, mostly greedy and short-sighted people who not only regard their own employees as the enemy---How dare they expect to be paid for their work, those takers!---but despise their customers too---Where do they get off demanding actual goods and services for the little money we make off them? Flake expects civility and common courtesy, not to mention charity, generosity, and a sense of fair play, to prevail in an economy based on the idea it's every man and woman for themselves.
Fundamental to the rich greedy bastards of the corporatist Right who own and run the Republican Party is the certain belief that they own the whole country too. And not only is it theirs to run as they please but all the rights, and privileges and benefits of living here the rest of us think belong to all Americans belong exclusively to themselves, the privileged few. The rest of are entitled only what they deign to give us.
Whatever largeness of spirit Flake might possess himself, he has consistently voted in support of that meanness and greed. He might not think of it in quite those words, but his record says he believes right along with the rich greedy bastards that the country belongs to the privileged few.
Now here's the thing. The other two sects of the Republican Party---the Religious Right and the cohort Nixon called the Silent Majority, angry loudmouths that they were, and which lately travelled under the Gadsden flag and called themselves the Tea Party, the Make America Great Again crowd who seem content these days to be simply Trump's base, the small town and suburban middle class voters who've always made up the Republican rank and file---believe the same thing: that the country belongs to a privileged few and all the rights, freedoms, privileges, benefits, and prerogatives that come from living here belong to that privileged few of which they are its most entitled members.
But let's be clear, neither the Religious Right nor the rank and file are as certain of their place among the privileged few as the corporatists because they're not rich. They're Republicans after all, and one thing all Republicans agree on is that people were put on this planet to make money. Lots of it. And it's by acquiring and keeping money you prove your worth in God's eyes and your neighbors'.
So, if you can't be sure you belong among the privileged few, on your own merits, what do you do.
Include yourself by identifying others to exclude.
All three sects divide the world into the included and the excluded, they just have different names for them. For the corporatists, it's the makers and the takers. For the Religious Right, it's the saved and the damned. For the rank and file, it's simply Us and Them.
Us and Them is what it amounts to for the corporatists and the religionists too, and what it really amounts to for all three is Us against Them.
The three sects have united in the battle of Us against Them, and, as it happens, the main thing all three versions of Us have in common is that the vast majority are white. Maintaining the privileges of the few is maintaining white privilege.
Racism and white supremacy underpin Republicanism, as do misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, religious bigotry, anti-intellectualism, parochialism, and tribalism, because Us is us and Them is anyone who is not like us.
And whether or not Flake finds this personally distasteful and it's really all he can stand cuz he can't stands no more---and I believe he does and can't---he has been complicit in advancing the idea that the country belongs to a privileged few, he just didn't realize or allow himself to realize who would come to count themselves among the privileged and how they would come to defend their privilege. He was on the side of Us in the battle against Them, it's only just dawned on him that he doesn't like Us very much.
Related Mannion Re-run: First American-made thought after seeing American Made: If a Republican does it, it’s not wrong.