This Fever of Fear

When President Trump addressed a group of evangelical leaders at the White House recently, he offered this stark warning:

“This November 6 election is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion, it’s a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment. …

“It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that they will overturn everything that we’ve done and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence.”

This is the same man who condoned violence at his own rallies.

Trump is right about one thing, the midterm elections are a referendum on him, but they’re also a referendum on Congressional Republicans. With Trump’s relentless focus on fear and unreason, his disdain for truth, conservative leadership in Washington has remained largely silent in the face an almost daily assault on our most important values and institutions.

It’s more than ironic that evangelicals embrace a man who has openly bragged about his sins. Too many Christians support Trump because they believe that his conduct is the price they must pay for his policies. This led to my writing House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Ryan is retiring from the House at the end of his term. On August 14th, I sent a letter to him encouraging him to speak more about the values of the institution he leads, and against the harsh rhetoric of division coming from the president.

Dear Speaker Ryan,

Your job as Speaker of the House must be difficult; from managing a variety of issues to working with the various factions of your party as well as the challenges posed by the president – the frustrations, consternations, and outright objections you face daily must be overwhelming, at times. In many respects, I can understand why you have chosen not to run for re-election.

While I have not always agreed with your policy choices, I have admired your respectful approach to issues. When you were running with former Governor Mitt Romney, I was impressed by your pragmatic approach to matters, namely, placing the country above party agenda; putting principle above expediency.

Mr. Speaker, I have been writing and speaking on ethics for 23 years. I cannot remember, search for and find a more ethically conflicted and morally bereft individual that represents so little of what the country stands for – what you stand for – than our current president.

In reading your recent New York Times interview, I was pleased by your candor, nonetheless, I was surprised by a comment with regards to being too critical of Mr. Trump: “The pissing match doesn’t work… … it boomerangs.”

In part, I agree. However, silence or near-silence is worse.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Good character is formed by living under conditions that demand good conduct. Part of that conduct includes your duty as Speaker. While it may not be easy, the fact remains that you are retiring, unencumbered with pleasing one group or another.

While I have no doubt that you “…have stopped [Mr. Trump] from being much worse,” you are the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the people’s house. Respectfully, sir, you need to speak up on behalf of us all!

With your remaining time as Speaker try this –

Try to publicly demonstrate more of the courage of your convictions instead of giving in to the expediency of short-term gains regarding Mr. Trump.

Try to speak out more forcefully against the relentless criticism and cynicism aimed at our most valued institutions; institutions that are the foundations of trust and confidence in this country.

Let your voice remind us that the country can survive this current fever of fear if we recognize that we are all in this together, and that “This country,” as Teddy Roosevelt said, “will not be a good place for any of us to live in, unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”

Respectfully,

Jim Lichtman

Where is the political courage to forcefully speak out against the reckless and misguided rhetoric of this president?

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