Dan Vallone: The importance of corralling Trump

For the Monitor
Published: 7/25/2018 12:20:16 AM

If present trends continue, when historians write about the proximate cause for America’s, and the world’s, descent into a violent, volatile state of affairs in the aftermath of the 2016 elections, they will point not to a specific act of aggression or political miscalculation, but to the deafening and tragic silence of elected officials who buried their heads while an egomaniacal president subverted America’s interests for his own self-aggrandizement

At the recent summit in Helsinki, President Donald Trump willingly, knowingly and with the eyes of the world watching praised Russian President Vladimir Putin repeatedly while attacking other Americans, going so far as to indicate he trusts Putin more than he does the American intelligence agencies. This is unprecedented. Never before has an American president so undermined our country while elevating an adversary. As Sen. John McCain so forcefully stated, “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”

We might hope this egregious behavior would cause congressional Republicans and Republican leaders across the country to break with Trump. Republicans and Democrats in Congress could censure Trump for advancing Russia’s interests at the expense of our own and pass veto-proof laws compelling him to stand up to Putin. Republican and Democratic governors and state legislatures could use the powers delegated to them under our Constitution to rebuke this president and augment our defenses against Russian aggression.

Sadly, and this is truly lamentable, there is no sign that this will happen. Outside of a handful of elected officials, such as McCain and Susan Collins, who have used their power to constrain Trump by voting down his agenda (with similar actions by a small number of Republican governors), this president has cowed any opposition from his own party into submission.

But we cannot allow present trends to continue. So we must use the unique and supreme authority reserved for us as citizens – the power to vote – to sweep into office leaders at every level who will prevent this president from further damaging our national security.

The fall elections present an opportunity for us to reinvigorate the checks and balances that underpin the durability of our system of government. With our votes we can empower a Congress, and state leaders, who will constrain Trump from glorifying our adversaries and reassert American leadership as a force for justice and the common good.

If you care about the security of our country and the safety of our neighborhoods, then vote for candidates who will stand up to this president.

If you care about the stability of our economy and the ability for American workers and businesses to prosper free from fears of an erratic tweet or Russian hack sending their industry into a tailspin, then vote for candidates who will stand up to this president.

If you care about the sanctity of our alliances and the protections we, and people across the globe, gain from NATO standing as a force for human rights and democratic values, then vote for candidates who will stand up to this president.

And if you care about the integrity of our democracy and about preserving for our kids and grandkids the sacred right to have elections unimpeded by foreign interference, then vote for candidates who will stand up to this president.

The muscles of our civic institutions, weakened from abuse and neglect on the part of congressional leaders unwilling to exert political force against Trump, will grow strong through our renewed activism. By voting out politicians unwilling to stand up to Trump, and electing leaders who will prioritize the national interest over party and self, we will uphold our duty to be the final guardians of our experiment in self-government.

In so acting we will also honor guidance George Washington gave our country in his farewell address. Though often cited for its prescriptions for foreign policy – “steer clear of permanent alliances” – Washington’s address included stark and substantial warnings about the dangers of party loyalties superseding our sense of national identity.

Washington warned that excessive party loyalty would divide the country and expose us to manipulation from foreign adversaries, noting how extreme partisanship “opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government through the channels of party passion.” Washington also highlighted how divisions caused by partisanship would eventually put our democracy at risk, warning that “sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

Both foreign influence in our internal affairs and Trump’s pursuit of self-interest at the expense of the public good were on clear display in Helsinki. When we go to the polls this November let us elect leaders who will ensure no such dereliction of presidential duty happens ever again.

(Dan Vallone is a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. He lives in Concord. Views expressed are his own.)

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