“Mr. President, I rise today to say: Enough”
— Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, Oct. 24, 2017
As I listened to Sen. Jeff Flake speak on the floor of the U.S. Senate and announce that he would not be seeking re-election, I could not help but think of a popular children’s story.
Written by Hans Christian Andersen and published in 1837, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short tale about a narcissistic emperor who loved to show off. You remember the story. A vain, self-centered emperor would prance around in the finest clothes as a way to show his superiority.
Two weavers came to town and promised to make the emperor the finest clothes ever created. In fact, these clothes were so incredible, the weavers said, that they would be “invisible to anyone who was incompetent or stupid.”
Weavers worked feverishly to create this new, spectacular clothing. Of course, it was all a big swindle – there were no clothes on the weaving loom and there were no clothes on the emperor.
Nevertheless, for fear that they would be seen as “unfit for their position, stupid or incompetent,” the emperor’s ministers and local townspeople marveled at the emperor’s new outfit until a small child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” At that point, everyone in the town realizes the emperor really “doesn’t have anything on.”
Undaunted by the truth, the emperor carried himself “even more proudly, and the chamberlains walked along behind carrying the train that wasn’t there.”
The similarities between this beloved tale and our current president and his team are striking.
First, our president, much like the emperor, is a narcissist. Even many of President Trump’s supporters have to admit that the man has never seen a mirror he does not like. And he loves lording even imaginary advantages over anyone and everyone. He brags about his wealth, his IQ, his grades in college, even the size of his hands, pointing out how much better and bigger he is than someone else.
Second, our president, much like the swindling weavers, is willing to say whatever it takes to get what he wants – even when he knows it to be a total fraud. Trump’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp” was a masterstroke of political marketing. His mantra struck a chord with many Americans who were sick and tired of what they saw as corruption and self-serving in Washington, D.C.
The only problem with this campaign promise was that, right from the start, it was a lie. Like the weavers who promised the emperor something he dearly wanted, candidate Trump had no real intention of ever fulfilling his promise to the American people. Once elected, President Trump started adding some of the worst swamp rats to his administration – people already in bed with the very industries they would now be charged with regulating.
And his loyal subjects have cheered him on while he walks unclothed along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Since long before the election, Democrats have been telling anyone who would listen that candidate and now-President Donald Trump was totally unfit to serve in the highest office in the land. But, at least to most Republicans, anything that a Democrat might say would just prove that they were “incompetent or stupid,” just like in the children’s story.
During the campaign many Republicans also warned about the dangers of electing someone like Trump. Those warnings fell on deaf ears. Candidate Trump promised to be “presidential” and voters, eager for change, bought into Trump’s fairy tale.
Now, however, the Trump fairly tale may finally be exposed for the dark, twisted fantasy that it is.
Recently, lifelong Republicans — men who have opposed the Democrats, President Obama and Hillary Clinton at every turn — have begun to speak up about the real dangers posed by President Trump: that he “doesn’t have anything on.”
One of the first to speak forcefully against the emperor was Sen. John McCain. His primary concern was with the damage that President Trump has caused to America’s place and reputation in the world. In a speech he gave accepting the Liberty Medal, McCain warned the United States against turning toward “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”
McCain has publicly called the president “poorly informed” and “impulsive.”
Then came a speech by former president George W. Bush. Without mentioning President Trump by name, President Bush, speaking at a George W. Bush Institute event in New York, offered harsh criticism of our country’s leader.
In a clear and unmistakable reference to our current president, Bush said, “Bullying and prejudice in our public life … provides permission for cruelty and bigotry.” He also said, “We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. … Argument turns too easily into animosity.”
More recently, Sen. Bob Corker, once a strong Trump supporter, has unleashed a barrage of criticisms at the president. Corker called Trump “an utterly untruthful president,” and said that Trump would be most remembered for the “debasement of our nation.”
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Corker ominously said that President Trump was pushing the United States on a path toward “World War III.”
Then there was the powerful speech recently delivered by Sen. Jeff Flake. The junior senator from Arizona, widely considered to be among the more conservative members of Congress, stood boldly against the president of the United States. He knew his criticism of the president made his re-election unlikely. Nevertheless, citing the “coarsening of our leadership,” the “compromise of our moral authority” and the “dangerous state of affairs,” he was willing to forego his career in favor of his principles.
To make his case, Flake quoted another Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt.
“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
Like the child in the story, McCain, Bush, Corker and Flake are all pointing and telling the American people that our president is unclothed.
The issues raised by these Republican leaders are not about tax reform, health care or building a wall along our country’s southern border. To varying degrees, these men support some or all of the president’s legislative proposals to date.
Instead, the concerns and fears raised by these leaders are about what President Trump is doing to our nation, our people and the United States’ place in the world. They see a president who is dividing the American people, fostering hatred and bigotry, and damaging our reputation abroad.
In 1973, it was another courageous Republican senator, Ed Brooke from Massachusetts, who was the first Senate Republican to call for Richard Nixon’s removal from office. That call was followed by an avalanche of criticism from his fellow Republicans. But his courage also gave strength to other Republicans to point out that it was in our country’s best interest for President Nixon to leave.
Today, having now heard from other Republicans that their emperor “doesn’t have anything on,” and that his behavior is damaging the country we all love, the only question is whether the rest of the Republicans in Congress will continue to act like the chamberlains in the fairy tale walking behind the emperor, as if the train of clothes were really there – or they will have the courage to say, “Enough!”
Editor’s note: We hope you’ve enjoyed this free preview of Ray’s unique perspective and unmistakable candor. Be sure to check back in coming weeks to find out how you can keep on reading Worcester’s best commentary without becoming a Sun member when the preview ends. Ray can be reached via email at Mariano@worcester.ma.
Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown and global issues that impact it every Sunday in Worcester Sun.