A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: No ‘Profiles in Courage’ found perusing political landscape in Trump-McConnell land

In February 1944, after seven years of guiding President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s agenda through the upper chamber, Senate Democratic Leader Alben Barkley, from the small, Western Kentucky town of Lowes, a man who would “rather be a servant in the House of the Lord than to sit in the seats of the mighty,’’ declared enough was enough.

FDR had vetoed a tax bill – the first time a president rejected a revenue measure in such a manner — asserting in his message that it would “rob the needy to enrich the greedy.’’ That compelled Barkley to resign as Senate majority leader, declaring that the president’s action constituted “a calculated and deliberate assault upon the legislative integrity of every member of Congress of the United States.’’

Alben Barkley

The Senate subsequently overrode the veto and the Democratic majority immediately reinstated Barkley as its leader. Thereafter it was felt that Barkley no longer was simply carrying water for FDR – he was standing tall for the legislative branch.

Turn now to June 2018. Within the space of two weeks, President Humpty-Dumpty Trump has defended his administration’s indefensible policy of separating children from their parents as they attempted to enter the U.S. without proper papers, blaming opposition Democrats for the atrocity, a claim that independent observers acknowledge is a lie, pure and simple.

Under increasing pressure, the president folded on Wednesday and finally signed an order intended to keep families together, although its effectiveness remains open to interpretation.

Humpty-Dumpty further alienated some of this nation’s closest allies, withdrawing from an agreement reached by the G-7 in a fit of pique, characterising Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak’’ and making life miserable for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the present and most likely future leader of the free world, by insisting that crime in her nation skyrocketed by 10 percent. Another lie, it has actually dropped by 10 percent.

While disparaging this nation’s friends, Trump has embraced some of the planet’s most brutal dictators, folks like Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of North Korea, and Russia President Vladimir Putin. The president noted that the people of North Korea “sit up at attention’’ when Jong-un speaks, adding “I want my people to do the same.’’

He started trade warm hiking tariffs on a cornucopia of nations, including China, in a misguided effort to return the U.S. to manufacturing prominence. The impact will likely be inflation as a result of increased prices, leading perhaps to increased unemployment at a time when the nation’s economy is booming.

And there was, of course, Humpty-Dumpty’s declaration that the news media is “the enemy of the people.’’

This all occurred basically within the last few days. And the onslaught appears destined to continue. That rundown doesn’t even begin to list the examples of racism, bigotry, misogyny, crudeness, bile, xenophobia and incivility that has marked Humpty-Dumpty’s administration. And there are at least 2½ years to go unless the special prosecutor investigating Russia interference in the 2016 presidential campaign that installed him in office finds evidence of something like, and here’s his favorite word, collusion, in which case all bets are off.

Finally, there are the lies. All the lies.

So, Barkley, as majority leader, rather famously confronted the man who generally is acknowledged as the greatest president of the 20th Century when he felt FDR was drawing outside the lines and did so with the support of the other members of the U.S. Senate.

Which raises a question – what is the current Senate majority leader doing?
Not a whole lot.

Trump and McConnell (from the New Yorker)

Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root ‘n Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, has stood in the way of an effort by Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, challenging Trump’s authority to willy-nilly impose tariffs on imported goods, in hopes of averting a trade war.

“Items as contentious as that’s likely to be, we’ll see, but I’m not going to call it up free-standing,” McConnell told reporters. Corker responded in a floor speech, insisting a lot of his fellow Republicans would support the measure given the chance.

“But no, no, no, ‘gosh, we might poke the bear,’ is the language I’ve been hearing in the hallways,” he said. “The president might get upset with us as United States senators.

“It’s politics, it’s politics,” Corker added later. “It’s ridiculous that people can’t vote on amendments.”

McConnell has had nothing to say about the G-7 fiasco. On Humpty-Dumpty’s relationship with his new BFF, Jong-un, ol’ Root ‘n Branch told CNN that Trump’s astounding embrace of Kim’s authoritarian tactics is fine so long as a peaceful resolution in the region can be reached.

In as weak a manner as possible, McConnell said separating children from the parents at the border might not have been the best idea, but there was no effort on his behalf to overturn Trump’s edict.

The leader has never had much to say about Trump’s litany of insults, vile remarks, bigoted references and trash talk that lowers the quality of debate in this country.

Oh, but he has taken a stand. McConnell now says Robert Mueller, the former FBI director leading the probe into the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s dealing with Russia “ought to wrap it up.’’

Man, talk about your profiles in courage.

It’s fair to say that the United States of America has arrived at, or is quickly approaching, a reckoning. Trump has proved incapable of performing the task he has been assigned and has brutalized the body politic. America is losing respect throughout the world – there’s no debating that claim – and is cozying up to monsters.

Americans are constantly heard insisting “we are better than this’’ and “this is not who we are.’’ It is not the country, the shining city on a hill, that many folks imagined. American exceptionalism is proving elusive.

Yet polls show better than four out of every 10 Americans approve of Trump’s performance. Most of them, frankly, belong to a club of which I am a member – old white guys who see their privileged status being overwhelmed by other forces.

There is a slowly growing movement, under Humpty-Dumpty’s watchful gaze, toward authoritarianism, anathema to the nation’s way of life.

That’s why someone needs to step up. It won’t be House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-WI, who is retiring and, regardless, has raised being mealy-mouthed to an art form. He has proved, in a word, useless. And Democrats hold little sway in a government where Republicans hold the executive and legislative branches.

That leaves McConnell, who carries a deserved reputation of always placing party before country and an undeserved reputation for being some kind of legislative swami who consistently outduels his rivals. It’s thin gruel indeed. But if the United States is going to finally move ahead and repair the national conscience, one Kentuckian is going to have to learn the lesson provided by another.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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One Comment

  1. Marv Dunn says:

    I too am a member of the “old white guy” club but that also means I have seen a lot of leaders come and go. McConnell and Ryan need to go. It’s one thing to defend 45’s policies but how can they stand there and defend his lies.

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