Outgoing Republican Senator Jeff Flake gave another speech on the Senate floor today denouncing his party’s president, elaborating on the same “daily sundering of our country” he mentioned last time. A day after a similar op-ed by his colleague John McCain ran in the Washington Post, Flake defended the free press against Trump’s relentless “fake news”-isms, and bemoaned the frightening global precedent this has set. “We are... in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere,” he said.
“2017 was a year which saw the truth—objective, empirical, evidence-based truth—more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government,” Flake recited.
“Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader.”
He went on to describe the president’s actions as a “spectacle”:
“Now we are told via Twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the ‘most corrupt and dishonest media awards.’ It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle, but here we are.”
The argument I keep hearing—that Flake and others are insincere in their criticisms because they “vote with Trump” or “supported Trump’s tax plan”—is frankly ridiculous; Trump has no set ideologies or policy plans or ideas about anything, much less taxes, and voting “with Trump” is for the most part a meaningless statement interchangeable with voting with Mitch McConnell. Continuing to act like a Republican does not make Flake’s outcry hypocritical; being anti-authoritarian does not make a person progressive.
But a more relevant point being made is that just yesterday, Flake—along with a number of Democrats—voted to renew the NSA’s warrantless internet surveillance program, which seems like a tool you shouldn’t hand over to a leader you consider Stalinesque. Trump’s spectacle is everything Flake describes, but until concrete action is taken against him in the Senate, these speeches and op-eds and disapproving tweets amount to nothing more than a heavily choreographed show of their own.