Keeping Up with Frank

As Republican Politicians Cower, Where Is America’s Cato?

November 26, 2018

While the pipe bombs sent in recent days to vocal critics of the current U.S. administration failed to detonate, the act lodged itself firmly in the American psyche. Combined with devastating gun violence at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a bar in California, these violent acts from within have left the U.S. even more divided, rattled and uneasy.

Tuesday’s midterm elections — which saw the Democrats win a majority in the House of Representatives and the Republicans strengthen their control of the Senate — make it clearer than ever that the United States is in immediate need of true leaders who can find the unifying ground essential to a healthy democracy.

True leaders — ones with courage and conviction — instinctively find the higher ground in times of crisis, when violence and intolerance seem to be ubiquitous. True leaders would immediately denounce murderous hate attacks, calling them what they are — acts of domestic terrorism. They would call for unity and peace, denounce the divisive political rhetoric that fuels hate and offer words that comfort the heartbroken and call on the nation to find its better self.

Few of these true leadership qualities were on display during the final stretch before the midterm elections. On the contrary, the Republican members of the House and Senate stayed quiet about the recent pipe bombs and attacks on a house of worship. They put party and self-interest before country. They prioritized re-election and power over institutional norms and civil discourse, abdicating practically every role the constitution envisioned — primarily that of checks and balances.

It is no coincidence that only retiring Republican House representatives and senators have spoken out against the vitriol spewing from the executive branch — and even then, only tepidly or fleetingly. Republican opponents who previously distanced themselves from President Donald Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries have now lined up behind him, fearing that falling afoul of him will jeopardize their political fortunes.

Alternative facts and conspiracy theories

More alarmingly, the White House is now an open source of disinformation, content to offer the public “alternative facts” and conspiracy theories that once existed only in the far reaches of the internet and the fringes of society. It is not an exaggeration to say that the White House has given sustenance to the darkest elements of American political life.

And while many sitting Republican politicians are undoubtedly aware of the damage this is doing to their democracy, few if any have the courage to speak out against it. It’s unimaginable that out of all the congressmen and senators, not one is willing to sacrifice his re-election chances by doing what’s morally right. Not one.

One could ask, where is the Cato in today’s republic?

Cato, the incorruptible Roman senator and stoic, stood up to Julius Caesar and warned his fellow senators about the leader’s dishonourable motives. His reputation as a fierce defender of truth and justice was so great that centuries later, George Washington, John Adams and Samuel Adams were each reportedly praised as being “the American Cato.”

Fast-forward to today, however, and an American Cato has yet to be found. Having felt the political tailwinds of vulgar speech, demographic agitation, and invented truths, there has been a death of courage and conviction to save American democracy from within.

Will America’s Catos — Republican or Democrat — emerge from the latest election in the world’s most powerful democracy? We can only hope.

(Published November 4, 2018 in The National Memo and November 12, 2018, in The Vancouver Sun.)