The Spine Test


House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

According to humorist Andy Borowitz, “Scientists are baffled by the ability of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to stand upright without the benefit of spines.” Borowitz reported on this “medical mystery” on January 30, 2017, a mere 10 days into the chaos and embarrassment that is the Trump administration.

Since then, President Donald Trump has averaged 6.5 lies a day, according to The Washington Post’s fact checker, not to mention the lies and misleading claims of Trump’s underlings defending the boss. The White House has been home to unprecedented disorder, as aides come and go. The president has defended white supremacists. Trump has shredded the liberal world order the United States created in the aftermath of the horrors of World War II, threatening to instigate and instigating trade wars with our major trading partners, failing to understand that the United States benefits even when it runs a trade deficit with another country. Trump attacks our closest allies — including Canada, with which the United States shares the longest undefended border in the world, and France, America’s oldest ally — while cozying up to the world’s most disreputable and despicable dictators, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and, now, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, who Trump calls “a very talented man” with a “great personality.” It is a pretty safe bet that Kim’s uncle and half-brother, murdered on Kim’s orders, would not agree. McConnell and Ryan probably do not agree either, but, so far, have shown no spine.

Those are just some of the highlights (or, more properly, lowlights) perpetrated by the most thuggish, boorish, and unlearned man ever to reside in the White House. More horrors could be cited, but the point is clear: Trump’s behavior is outside the norm for a leader in a democratic society. He has made war on the press, threatened individual freedoms, and undermined the U.S. Constitution, but at no point have McConnell and Ryan, along with the vast majority of Republicans, spoken out. They have defended the president or put their heads down and muttered no comment when asked about Trump’s myriad offenses. They even have joined Trump and his lackeys in attempting to undermine the special counsel’s investigation and attacking the institutions of American democracy, such as the FBI and the Justice Department.

Who knows why they have been so spineless. It could be a combination of fear of defeat from an ardent Trump supporter in the primaries (South Carolina Republican Representative Mark Sanford, I am looking at you) or a Faustian bargain to enact Republican legislation (tax cuts being the only example, so far), even though Trump does not support traditional GOP dogma on such important topics as trade and international relations. Trump may be a bad Republican, but he is the only Republican McConnell and Ryan have. McConnell’s spinelessness may be due to Trump providing the conservative judicial appointments the majority leader craves. So, spinelessness has been the order of the day for Republican leaders. Nothing, not any horror, moves them, not even, it turns out, the callous, inhumane, and Nazi-like policy of separating families at the border. 

Separating families at the border is a function of President Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy.

The administration is detaining some immigrants who illegally enter the country, putting people guilty of a misdemeanor in detention centers. Others are asylum seekers who have broken no law, yet they are being detained and their children snatched from them. Children cannot be held in detention centers, hence family separation. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama considered separating families too inhumane — not to mention politically perilous — to adopt as policy, so they never detained parents traveling with families. As former first lady Laura Bush wrote in The Washington Post, “I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

The Trump administration apparently disagrees, and then lacking the courage of its convictions (if it has any), hides behind the fiction that a Democrat-enacted law requires family separation. Trump tweeted, “Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!” That is a bald-faced lie; there is no law requiring family separation. Besides, Republicans control both houses of Congress; if there were a law requiring family separation, Republicans could easily repeal it and pass new legislation, which President Trump then could sign! No problem!

Some Republicans are beginning to speak out. Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse called on the president to “end this family separation policy.” But, so far, little out of the leadership. McConnell has been silent, and Ryan has offered only tepid condemnation of Trump’s obscenely cruel policy, “We don’t want kids to be separated from their parents,” Ryan said last week. Ryan echoed the president in falsely blaming Democrats for the problem, and his solution is a bill that would override existing protections for children and permit holding them with their parents in detention centers. So much for Republican legislation to protect families. 

McConnell and Ryan, and most of the Republican congressional caucuses, have been silent or complicit in Trump’s inhumane policies. The rationalizations they have offered for such behavior have lost all relevance in the face of Trump’s latest obscenity of separating children from their parents. One child reportedly was grabbed while breastfeeding and other children were taken off to bathe and have yet to return to their families. Trump’s motive is no mystery: He is using these children as pawns in an attempt to force Congress — instead of Mexico, as promised by Trump — to fund his precious wall (children as hostages? Remember Saddam Hussein?). Do Republicans want to be associated with so cynical a ploy

Hundreds of children kept in cages at a Texas facility.

Evidently, yes. McConnell and Ryan are parents, as are, presumably, a large number of their congressional colleagues. How can any parent read about children snatched from their parents or see images of crying children and not be moved? Or, listen to the audio of children wailing for their parents or see pictures of children in cages and not condemn the administration’s policy? Apparently, if you are a Republican member of the party of Trump, anything is possible, including looking the other way at violations of basic human decency.

McConnell and Ryan fail the spine test. Neither has one, and it is a miracle they can stand upright. 

Posted June 19, 2018

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