President Donald J. Trump is a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot. A delusional narcissist. An orange-faced windbag. President Trump is a megalomaniac strongman with a relentless focus on dividing Americans. A sniveling coward and a pathological liar. President Trump bragged about preying upon women. He has shown complete disregard for common decency. He opts to mock the vulnerable and inflame prejudices by attacking ethnic and religious minorities. He is the most vulgar person ever to have aspired to the presidency. A speck of dirt is way more qualified to be president.
These are not my words, mind you. These are the words of seven Republican members of the United States Senate: Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, Ben Sasse, Ted Cruz, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Marco Rubio. And there are still more Republican senators who spoke similar words during the past year.
Why did they say such inflammatory things about a fellow Republican? Because they are standard bearers of a noble political party that has fought for principles and values that are precious to millions of Americans, going back to Abraham Lincoln. Because they couldn’t stay silent when they saw Donald Trump savaging the ideals and the good name of their party. And because they were confident that Donald Trump was never going to be elected President.
However, Donald Trump won election, and now these Republican senators have a daily opportunity to show the American people their integrity.
These seven lawmakers – in fact, even just three of the seven at any one time – in a 52-48 Republican-controlled Senate can deny President Trump the absolute power they have noted he craves.
Hyperbolic, you say? Perhaps you should ask Senator Sasse, who once wrote: “Have you noticed how Mr. Trump uses the word ‘Reign’ – like he thinks he’s running for King? It’s creepy, actually.”
Yet these seven Republican senators – among others who have made similar statements – have been casting their first votes in near-total allegiance to their reigning leader. For instance, the party-line confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, despite a national outcry from millions who worry about his commitment to protecting civil rights. And now they labor over whether to investigate the possibility of crimes committed during the Trump presidential campaign – or simply look the other way.
Our new president is undoubtedly watching these earliest congressional actions very carefully and deciding whether the legislative branch actually is a check and balance on his authority, as the framers of the Constitution had intended.
Our system of government retains its genius, nearly a quarter of a millennium since its inception. But it only works if those possessing legislative power are brave and principled enough to stand up to a president who, as Senator Collins once wrote, “will slash and burn and trample anything and anyone he perceives as being in his way.”
When senators of a political party know and openly admit such things about the head of their party who occupies the White House, a duty arises that is much greater than loyalty to party – loyalty to country.
History records the heroic defense of our nation’s soul by past Republican legislators when the need ran highest. The GOP was in its infancy when its representatives and senators risked everything to back President Lincoln in staring down slavery. More recently, it was the courage of conviction demonstrated by Republicans in the House and Senate that forced Richard Nixon’s resignation and restored honor and dignity to the White House. Today’s Republican legislators are not the first to face a choice between loyalty to party and loyalty to country. The only question is whether they will be the first to fail that test.
Moreover, we should hope that loyalty to God might supersede loyalty to party for senators who hold the power of counterbalance to a president about whom they have admitted such things. In a nation where so many of our elected leaders proudly base their policy decisions on their stated Judeo-Christian values, it is curious that the most foundational Judeo-Christian beliefs seem dispensable. “Love your fellow human being as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 and Mark 12:31). “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). Surely, both the least and most devout among our legislators would acknowledge that the things they themselves have said about their party’s leader do not leave much room for the Golden Rule. Will their devotion to their country and to their God take precedence over their devotion to the President of the United States, whose famous vindictive streak, which they openly concede and obviously fear, threatens to tear the very fabric of our democracy?
Wrote Senator Sasse during the campaign: “The task of public officials is to be public ‘servants.’ The law is king, and the people are boss.”
Said Senator Paul on Tuesday: “I don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party.
Be careful, senators. You are standing with a president who in his first month on the job has already chosen repeatedly to defy both the law and the will of the people. Be forewarned. History is watching you, and so are we – Republicans and Democrats and Independents alike. And we will remember.
Rabbi Ken Chasen is Senior Rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, California.