“Enough,” he said. Enough of the “coarseness of our national dialogue,” the “regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals,” the “flagrant disregard for truth and decency.”
Atop the Hill on Oct. 24, Jeff Flake, Republican Senator of Arizona, took to the Senate floor and gave voice, from a long-awaited conservative perspective, to the concerns over our presidential leadership which plague the American psyche every day—through every tweet, public condemnation, national humiliation, and new detail in the Russia investigation.
His voice proved powerful, and his words sobering, especially in his conservative ethos. The “reckless, outrageous, and undignified” behavior “[emanating] from the top of our government,” he declared, “is dangerous to a democracy” in the same way that it is antithetical to our American moral consensus on right and wrong—our “articles of civic faith.” In vowing to stand no longer as a complicit enabler in the “betrayal of the fundamental obligations of American leadership,” the third most conservative Republican in the Senate pledged to serve, instead, as an example of these “fundamental obligations” by breaking his silence, shedding his complicity, and adhering only to his principles and to his conscience, despite the resultant political costs.
Senator Flake’s speech proved profound in its necessary audacity and fortitude in confronting the harsh realities of the Republican Party and of our democratic order. It gave a flicker of optimism for American conservatives who felt helpless at the Trumpian takeover of the party of American conservatism, and it allowed the American public to a flirt with a burgeoning restoration of faith in our elected officials and in those institutions that they are vested to uphold by the power of the people.
Yet, there came a moment when a more tangible gravity affected the senator’s speech. Citing the euphoric prospect of liberation from “political consideration,” namely that which led the Republican Party and its blindly allegiant leadership down a path of degradation of both character and principle, Senator Flake announced the conclusion of his political career in the Senate. With those words that the end of his term in Jan. 2019 will mark the end of his conservative guidance in the greatest governing body, the moral ascendancy of Senator Flake’s message was similarly struck with the gravity that affected his tone. This heaviness, however, assumed a somber form and weighted the upwards moral arc of his address until it eventually collapsed.
According to Senator Flake, a “loyalty to conscience and principle should supersede loyalty to any man or party”—in other words, an unabashed dedication to preserving conservative principles in the Grand Old Party and to reaffirming traditional American and democratic values must be paramount to hyper-partisanship and shaded allegiance. Yet, the fact that the senator, on the eve of his departure, urged that such moral priorities must once again claim their prominence in the American mind epitomizes the supreme solution to our national catastrophe as much as it represents the senator’s ultimate capitulation to the same enemy that ushered the United States into its current state of calamity.
How potent can Senator Flake’s convictions, his backward-condemning and forward-looking vision for the future of a great nation in crisis prove if he himself isn’t willing to stick around and fight the undoubtedly hard fight to transform these idealistic persuasions into fruit-bearing action?
Senator Flake’s political audacity to call out a party which now largely condemns all of its dissenters as political enemies, regardless of their records of conservative policymaking or commitment to the conservative principles that have underpinned the Grand Old Party since its Lincolnian founding, represents exactly the moral and political influence that can serve as the antidote to the Trumpian cancer destroying the G.O.P. from within. More than that, his profound pre-political, pre-partisan concern for his country, impelled by his deeply patriotic sentiment and commitment to a moral, democratic conscience, can drive the movement for the reclamation of our American “articles of civic faith”—those which are “our birthright and our obligation.”
Yet, Senator Flake resolved to abandon this mission now, after boldly outlining its ultimate necessity for the moral and political health of the U.S. and the world, in the same way that he, despite his compelling words to the contrary, has been complicit in the crisis that provoked the need for such a national charge to reclaim American prosperity in the first place.
On the day following his candid charge on the Senate floor, the senator revealed that he “didn’t vote for this president last November,” nor did he vote for Hillary Clinton, then-candidate Trump’s only true competitor in the 2016 presidential race. In August, Senator Flake rebranded American conservative Barry Goldwater’s landmark Conscience of a Conservative into Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle, essentially serving as a reflective credo for repudiating Trumpism.
The American people, and particularly those conservative Americans who feel deeply betrayed by the Republican Party which once stood for their values, which once stood for something, needed Senator Flake to have done more than retroactively condemn the national political reality. The American people needed the senator’s principled leadership and moral conscience during the election as other Republican political officials signed onto “Never Trump” statements and concerned citizens formed groups like “Republican Women for Hillary.” The American people needed his vote—his support for the only candidate who would have prevented the debasing of our national status and character to today’s level, which Senator Flake has even conceded is a result of the unparalleled “kind of behavior that this president has” demonstrated. The American people and the assurance of a prosperous future needed his courage to put country over party before it was too late.
Senator Flake, it is too late. We, as a nation, and you—despite your obvious capacity for conscientious conservative guidance—in your inaction during the election and your abandoning of the party whose traditional principles you once so revered, are plagued now with exactly what we asked for, or what we did not fight hard enough to resist.
When both the party and the country needed you most, you remained silent and complicit. Now, when we must fight with principled passion and an abiding faith in the triumph of our shared American values, you profess your commitment to the cause yet abandon your responsibility to lead Americans on this consequential mission.
Don’t flake on us again, Senator, not when the good fight is not yet finished, not when there exists no assurance that the “anomalous [will never] become the normal.”