Democrat Sherrod Brown, author of “Desk 88: Eight Progressive Senators Who Changed America, ” recently penned an op-ed for the New York Times. Brown is the senior US Senator from Ohio.
Brown calls to mind the crucial period just after the devastating 9/11 attacks, when the 2002 midterm elections were at hand for hundreds of members of the House and Senate. The country was still fresh from the horrific traumas of the year before and they were being asked to vote on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq.
Brown spoke with Democrat Senator Patty Murray, a thoughtful Democrat from Washington State, who said that she could recall “the fear that dominated the Senate leading up to the Iraq war.” Murray said, “You could feel it then,” and then she added the alarming statement, “and you can feel that fear now.”
Brown says that there are plenty of people who questioned the Iraq war from the very beginning and he draws stunning parallels to some pivotal moments in history by saying,
“Our sense of isolation surely wasn’t much different from the loneliness felt in the 1950s by Senator Herbert Lehman of New York, who confronted Joe McCarthy’s demagogy only to be abandoned by so many of his colleagues. Nor was it so different from what Senator George McGovern must have felt when he announced his early opposition to the Vietnam War and was then labeled a traitor by many inside and outside of Congress.”
Brown says that fear has been a primary motivator throughout important moments in the country’s history. Adam Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, has noted that Robert Kennedy spoke of how “moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle.”
While fear may be a great motivator, there are some who use fear mongering as a way of conducting themselves- Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, used fear to try to hasten the impeachment trial for Trump while drawing as little public attention to it as he could. In fact, in the Capitol, where reporters are normally given fairly open access, they have now been sectioned off, Brown says, “like cattle” in certain areas. Reporters, who usually roam the Capitol freely, have been cordoned off like cattle in select areas. To take it a step farther, Mr. McConnell has even restricted camera views in the Senate chamber so it only shows those who are present and not empty spots.
And yet, Brown says, “barely a peep from Republican lawmakers.”
He says that one journalist said, “How in the world can these senators walk around here upright when they have no backbone?”
Brown recalls one evening from late on day four of the trial. He remembers Adam Schiff telling the Senate, “CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that Republican senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’” He says Republicans present were immediately furious, groaning and mumbling their protests. But he points out that Schiff had obviously hit a painful nerve.
Brown believes fear is the motivator for these reps and senators- fear that Trump may label them with one of his infamous nicknames, or that he might question their loyalty and then blast them on Twitter. Or, even worse, they worry that he may actually start campaigning against them during the Republican primary.
Brown says these Republican politicians fearfully ponder such questions as:
“Will the hosts on Fox attack me?”
“Will the mouthpieces on talk radio go after me?”
“Will the Twitter trolls turn their followers against me?”
Brown then shares a disturbing truth. He says, “In private, many of my colleagues agree that the president is reckless and unfit. They admit his lies. And they acknowledge what he did was wrong. They know this president has done things Richard Nixon never did. And they know that more damning evidence is likely to come out.”
So here we are left, watching these lawmakers twist themselves and their beliefs in order to justify their votes is akin to watching a circus- a circus that threatens to destroy everything in its path. They say that they couldn’t possibly have called witnesses because it would have made the trial so lengthy. They say they don’t need any new evidence because they refuse to admit that they could possibly change their minds. They say that convicting Trump would be sealing the fate of every future president.
Brown says that these colleagues of his “stop short of explicitly saying that they are afraid” but he believes it is clear that fear is now controlling this Senate. We can only hope that in November, Americans will use their votes to speak, and that the collective voice will be one of sound reason and bravery.