Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama spoke passionately and with great emotion about issues such as fairness, love, the rule of law, humility, compassion, selflessness, unity, courage, dignity and service to others. They exemplified why the presidency is such a revered office. They captured the moment.
A few hours later, their successor, Donald Trump — who pointedly refused to pay his respects to Lewis — took to the podium at the White House to criticize his predecessors and give himself undeserved credit despite his gross failure to competently manage the Covid-19 pandemic that has taken the lives of over 150,000 Americans. He also doubled down on his threat not to accept the results of the upcoming election in November. As Trump often does, he diminished the stature of the presidency.
By his cowardly and self-aggrandizing behavior, he showed that the greatest threat to our democracy is posed not by foreign leaders like Vladimir Putin of Russia or Xi Jinping of China, but by our own president. Indeed, by intentionally casting doubt on the legitimacy of an election that he seems likely to lose according to the most recent polls, Trump seeks to rip out the very heart of our democracy. Nothing is more essential or defining of a democracy than the selection of leaders by the will of the people, expressed through their votes. Anything short of that is a monarchy or a dictatorship.
President Trump can present all the false arguments he wishes about “widespread” voter fraud and the unreliability of mail-in ballots. But there is no evidence to support his claims that either of these is true. Experts across the country have repeatedly pointed out the reliability of ballots submitted by mail (of which Trump and many in his administration have taken advantage) and the overall integrity of our electoral system. Only someone who fears losing would suggest an election could be rigged.
What to do? A place to start might be with the Republican leaders in the Senate, the House, and the party itself. It was bad enough that they have remained silent — and some would say complicit — in the face of Trump’s many previous transgressions, including being accused of threatening to withhold aid to Ukraine until it gave him dirt on Joe Biden (Trump denies there was any quid pro quo), his obsequious fawning over Putin, his lies about pretty much everything, and his disgusting attacks on women, minorities, the press and the institutions of government. But what’s done is done. We cannot go back.
Looking to the present and future, if there ever was a time for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. John Thune, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Steve Scalise, and the Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel to step up and put the country ahead of the party, it is now.
It might be worth their while to ask themselves why they got into politics to begin with. Was it to gain fame and power? If so, there is little hope they will be of any use to America. But if, by chance, they went into politics because they believed in the nobility of public service, were attracted to the idea of making a contribution to society, and wanted to preserve and strengthen our democracy, then this is their moment.
This is their moment to say: “We care more about our country than our own political fortunes. Mr. President, enough is enough. Quit casting false aspersions on our electoral process. Either agree here and now to accept the results or withdraw your candidacy.”
Were they to do so, two things are certain: Trump would explode against them on Twitter, but they would forever secure their places in history as people who helped to save America. Not really a tough choice.
Whether one liked or supported the policies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama, on Thursday it was obvious that all three men believed deeply in the goodness of America, the nobility of public service, and the promise of our future. And, perhaps, more importantly, they believe in what founding father John Adams said: “Ours is a government of laws, and not of men.”
It was not lost on anyone who watched on Thursday that the man who lives and works where Clinton, Bush, and Obama did, disrespected a national hero and shrunk from the moment.