That’s who I had in mind as I prepared to attend the recent wake and funeral for my brother-in-law. They comb through the obituaries to find vacant homes to burglarize while family members gather elsewhere to grieve. It’s easy to picture these grave robbers as seedy-looking loners, sweaty and unwashed, with an evil glint in their eyes.
But sometimes they wear expensive suits or well-tailored dresses. Sometimes, they don’t steal the physical property of sorrowful families, but dishonor the moral legacy and sacrifices of the dead. And sometimes, they’re among the people we elect to the highest offices that our political world offers.
Now, I’m not ignorant of our history. The Founding Fathers were innovative, insightful, persistent and courageous, but they weren’t saints. More broadly speaking, our national history has far too extensive a record of exploitation and injustice.
Yet, in spite of these flaws, from our beginnings until now, the United States, through its hundreds of years of peaceful transfers of power, to the spreading of prosperity widely among its large population, to its multi-textured racial and ethnic fabric, is still a magnet to those yearning to breathe free in our land of opportunity. And it’s this honored national legacy that’s now threatened by the War on Truth that President Donald Trump is waging on a seemingly daily basis.
This War on Truth doesn’t merely violate the niceties of accuracy. It’s also corrosive to the body of trust that’s essential for effective governance and leadership in times of national crisis, such as when President John F. Kennedy rallied public support for his actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Trump’s War on Truth jeopardizes Americans’ lives and the well-being of our planet.
Yet it’s a War on Truth that Trump is not waging alone. His allies are the Republican leaders of the House, the Senate and the state and local governments who, with a few notable exceptions, have been silent during the Trump War on Truth or have offered as criticism only slaps on the wrist.
Given Trump’s aversion to self-correction, don’t expect him to alter his course without the most substantial of prodding, if not outright shaming. But there are three steps that Republican leaders can take so they, instead, are allies in support of the best of our nation’s legacy.
First, when Trump tramples on the truth, they shouldn’t hide from reporters’ questions and, if cornered, shouldn’t slither away from a direct comment or a forthright characterization. Instead, they should volunteer to call an inaccuracy an inaccuracy and a lie a lie.
Second, as celebratory as it might feel to be part of photo-ops with Trump, Republican leaders should recognize that as long as he continues the War on Truth, their participation normalizes his transgressions and legitimizes his behavior. It’s time to boycott these camera-ready appearances until Trump’s willful or reckless inaccuracies and lies cease.
Third, Republican leaders need to honor the bipartisan tradition of almost a half-century of presidents and demand that Trump make public his recent income tax returns and those going forward. This transparency would give them, and all Americans, the means to honestly assess whether Trump’s initiatives are safeguarding the national interest or advancing his own personal interest.
Doing all of this requires that Republican leaders speak out loudly each time Trump acts out publicly in his War on Truth. They need to recognize their opportunity to infuse a much-needed dose of integrity into the lifeblood of our body politic.
To do otherwise, would be to, instead, flood it with the toxic venom of . . . grave robbers.
For most of his 17 years on Capitol Hill, Chuck Cutolo was a legislative director for then-Sen. Carl Levin (D- Mich.).