|Donald Trump and mentor, Roy Cohn|
That's how the man with all the ‘‘best words," the man who “know(s) words” replied when a man he had once fired called him a liar and compared him to a mob boss.
The man who had been fired, James Comey, also happened to be the former director of the FBI and also happens to have written a book in which he says the man who fired him was overly concerned with proving that he had never been involved in a situation that included Russian prostitutes and people urinating on each other. “Do I look like a guy who needs hookers?” Can you imagine me in such a situation? the former FBI director says his former boss asked him in the Oval Office.
This is where Donald Trump has taken the office of president of the United States. And, just to get it out of the way, yes, I can imagine Trump in such a situation. That’s the problem, America.
Think about it. If it didn’t happen, then there’s no way for someone to prove it did. And in this country, prosecutors -- even special prosecutors -- have to prove you did something wrong, rather than you proving you didn’t. It’s called the presumption of innocence, a commodity this administration has flushed down the toilet, along with any semblance of dignity.
There is no shame in the White House. We are reminded of this daily, with lies, big and small. Payoffs to cover up extra-marital affairs. Blatant racism, nepotism and corruption. An aversion to the rule of law and an ignorance of the Constitution. An aura of pettiness, shallowness and vindictiveness. Utter disdain for the poor or disadvantaged. And smiling all the time.
So, too, with the Republican Party as it bows at the feet of Trump, a Russian puppet now clearly its leader. There is no shame. No sense of decency. “At long last,” I find myself asking rhetorically of the Republican Party, “have you no sense of decency?
Well … history offers an answer.
Those words were first uttered in 1954 by Joseph Welch, a Boston lawyer hired by the Army -- the U.S. Army -- to defends itself from charges by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin, of lax security at a secret Army facility. McCarthy had used his position as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to intensify his ongoing crusade to weed out what he claimed were hundreds of Communists working in the State Department and other federal agencies as well as in private industry, notably entertainment and the arts. During an endless round of hearings brutally conducted by McCarthy and his chief counsel, Roy Cohn (remember that name), witnesses were accused, insulted and relentlessly grilled. “Red-baiting.”
Finally, during the three-month-long, televised Army-McCarthy hearings, the senator charged that one of Welch’s young lawyers, who was not working on the case, at one time had ties to a Communist organization. He pressed the issue. Welch had had enough. "Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness," he said. As McCarthy tried to continue, Welch interrupted: "Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
McCarthy, finally, was done. Someone had called him a bum to his face. He was eventually censured by the Senate and scorned by his own party. But careers were destroyed, lives ruined, families and friendships broken because of an unfettered campaign of reckless accusation and fear-mongering conducted by a publicity-hungry politician being advised by a ruthless lawyer, Roy Cohn, for whom nothing -- facts, lives, careers … decency -- mattered.
Roy Cohn, it turns out, was a younger Donald Trump’s lawyer, confidante and social secretary for many years in New York City. “If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent, you get Roy,” Trump once said.
The student learned from his mentor. Trump testified as a character witness at Cohn’s disbarment hearing in the ‘80s (they got him), but eventually dropped him as his lawyer on discovering Cohn was dying of AIDS. People are dispensable.
More history. In 1972, Sen. Edmund Muskie, one of the most-decent people to ever run for president, had the misfortune to weep during a speech in snowy New Hampshire in which he was defending himself and his wife from accusations from William Loeb, conservative publisher of the Manchester Union Leader. An editorial accused Muskie, a Democrat, of using an ethnic slur against French-Americans, a large voting bloc in the state. The charge was based on a letter from a Florida man that was later shown to be a hoax planted by the dirty tricks division of the Nixon White House, another time when Republican shame took a holiday. Loeb also made a not-so-subtle suggestion that Muskie’s wife enjoyed drinking too much.
In defending her, Muskie spoke during a snowstorm, calling Loeb a “gutless coward.” But the senator’s voice broke and tears appeared to roll down his face. His aides later said it was snow because, apparently, decency in a presidential candidate was unacceptable. Voters agreed. Muskie eventually dropped out.
One more lesson on Republicans and shamelessness from history: Swiftboating.
The phrase was born during John Kerry’s run for the presidency in 2004. The Democratic senator from Pennsylvania was subjected to a relentless campaign in TV ads and even a book questioning his claimed military service and the circumstances of his combat medals.
A Navy veteran, he was commander of a swift boat, used to patrol the waters in Vietnam. A group calling itself Swift Vets and POWS for Truth attacked Kerry’s record as false and his medals as undeserved. The well-funded campaign dealt a serious blow to his campaign, leading to the re-election of George W. Bush. The Swift Vets claims were eventually determined to be unfounded, with virtually none of the veterans in the group having served on a boat that Kerry commanded.
“Red-baiting,” “dirty tricks, “swiftboating.” The terms live on today as examples of lying in politics and shameless disregard for the impact on people’s lives. All by Republicans in the pursuit or defense of power. It wasn’t always so with the party, but now it is. Trump, the proud ignoramus, gets a free ride from a shameless Republican Congress that has abandoned all pretense of decency. We’ve got ours, they smile.
Well, I for one am ashamed, America. At long last, I wish more of you were, too.