With the prospect of a day off and beautiful autumn weather in the air, I was washing my kitchen floor and planning to rake leaves from my yard. Then Jeff Flake took the Senate floor earlier this week.
I ended up sitting on my still-dirty floor, spellbound before the television as the junior Republican senator from Arizona made one of the best speeches I have ever heard in Washington.
It was a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” moment, done in 17 minutes.
From his heart and from his soul, Flake said that if good people do not stand up to say “enough!” to Donald Trump's “reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior, they will be complicit in a frightening epoch in history.
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Citing Trump's lies, bullying, disregard for civility and injudicious tweets, among other flaws, Flake said: “It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn't you do something? Why didn't you speak up?’ What are we going to say?”
Flake said it is time to realize Trump is not going to “pivot” into good governing. Trump is not going to change. When people say they like hearing the president “tell it how it is,” they are just excusing dreadful, undisciplined behavior.
That same day Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he’s sorry he voted for Trump who, Corker said, is “debasing” our country.
I was elated. Republicans were waking to an authoritarian, narcissistic leader undermining our values and principles, whose businesses benefit from the presidency. Surely they’d now admit Trump’s aim to deport millions is unworkable and detrimental.
His merging of state and religion dangerous. His rewards for big businesses unfair. His turning back the clock on environmental protection unnecessary.
His alienation of allies reprehensible. His talk of nuclear war irresponsible. His revocation of consumer protections harmful. A divider, not a unifier.
Then I heard that Trump got a standing ovation on Capitol Hill the same day. Trump called it a “lovefest.” Republican senators praised him, vowing to pass his proposal to cut taxes for the richest 11,000 Americans in a country of 323 million.
One senator in the private meeting with Trump said Republicans will back him 100 percent to get the tax cuts they crave. As for Corker and Flake? “They're not running for re-election. They’re toast,” he said. The White House dismissed them as publicity-seekers.
Also that day, analysts said Trump's still undefined tax overhaul plan would add as much as $2 trillion to the national debt.
Republicans heaved a universal shoulder shrug; they are desperate for something to parade before voters, deficit be damned. Trump's promise that middle class families would get a $4,000 tax cut? Absolutely not true.
The same day, it was revealed that a two-person power company in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s small hometown in Montana got a $300 million contract to fix Puerto Rico's devastated power grid.
A month after two hurricanes, 80 percent of the island remains without electricity. That’s what “draining the swamp” looks like.
An unaccompanied17-year-old pregnant girl captured at the Texas border after a harrowing journey from her country was told by the Trump administration she could not have an abortion because she is an undocumented minor. The courts are divided.
Flake’s speech was eloquent and historic — a Republican senator denouncing the character of the Republican president.
In the moment, many senators were mesmerized.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and Flake’s fellow Arizonan senator, John McCain, said Flake’s decision to leave in January 2019 is lamentable.
But most Republicans scoff that despite Flake’s conservative credentials (he votes with Trump on issues), he probably could not have been re-elected anyway given Trump’s ridicule of him.
Is the Republican party broken?
Will more statesmen retire and be replaced by white supremacists and intemperate scofflaws out to destroy the system?
We don’t know. Flake has hope.
At some point, he thinks, the fever will break, the spell will disappear, eyes will be opened.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Services.