“Once to every man and nation
“Comes the moment to decide
“In the strife of truth with falsehood
“For the Good or Evil side
“Then it is the brave man chooses,
“While the coward stands aside”
The American poet James Russell Lowell wrote those words in 1844 during the intensifying crisis over slavery.
They speak to us again.
Donald Trump is a uniquely evil candidate for president. It is indeed a moment to decide.
I don’t wield that adjective casually.
Trump’s gross sense of sexual entitlement, as he boasted in the Billy Bush tape, isn’t even the worst of it. We already knew about that aspect of his sleaziness, a misogyny bordering on perversion.
But just as it appeared it couldn’t get any lower than that, it did.
The cornered hyena struck back by threatening to prosecute and imprison his opponent if he wins.
And that didn’t end with the debate. He’s been feeding it like raw meat to his howling mobs, reveling in their chants of “Lock her up.”
There has never been anything like that in American politics.
It’s what foreign tyrants like his darling Vladimir Putin do — that is, when they’re not simply killing their rivals. It’s what Fidel Castro, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Augusto Pinochet did to theirs. The list is long: Zimbabwe, Iran, North Korea, Turkey and others.
“Republicans should not be okay with @realDonaldTrump threatening to jail his opponent after the election,” wrote Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. “That is not who we are.”
Flake was an early and honorable critic of his party’s putrid nominee. He didn’t wait for the sewer to overflow.
But far too many other Republicans still pretend for public consumption that Trump is fit to be president.
They are the cowards who stand aside.
That Trump is morally and mentally unfit and unworthy in every respect for the presidency is only part of the problem.
The other is that he has laid bare and energized the ugly underside of American society. We host a virulent racism rooted in the original national sin of slavery. There is angry intolerance for the diversity reflected in our founding motto, e pluribus Unum — from many, one. There is hostility especially to the give-and-take political process upon which our democracy depends.
Not all Trump supporters harbor these hatreds, but those who do will not fade away with his defeat. He seems, in fact, to be setting himself as up as a third force in American politics, subsuming the Tea Party in an authoritarian movement that most of us hoped could never happen here.
The Republican Party bears enormous blame for this. Although conscientious Republicans were instrumental in passing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts of the 1960s, it was a series of their presidential candidates — Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan — who exploited Southern resentment to infect their party with racism and move it far to the right.
There has been an endless parade of Republican politicians making their way into government by denouncing the very same political system at whose trough they feed.
This is the paranoia upon which Trumpism feeds.
Who in the GOP spoke out to denounce Trump in the four years he spent subverting President Obama‘s administration with the birther myth? I can remember only Colin Powell defending the president’s legitimacy. Other Republicans were happy to see someone with Trump’s celebrity doing their dirty work for them.
Now they are shocked — shocked! — that someone so vile is their nominee.
Give credit to those who refused, early and honorably, to wallow in the sewer. They include the former presidents Bush, Jeb Bush and his friend and adviser Mac Stipanovich, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and others who couldn’t stomach Trump’s demonization of Hispanics and Muslims, and also marked him — accurately—as not conservative.
The good news, according to USA Today, is that more than a fourth of elected top Republicans — governors and members of Congress — are now refusing to endorse his candidacy.
But the bad news is that nearly three of four of these so-called leaders still refuse to repudiate his candidacy despite his contempt for women and his threat to become a tyrant. Denouncing his gross behavior and his dirty mouth isn’t enough. He is unfit in every way for any office, let alone the highest in the land. No politicians who pretend otherwise are fit for office themselves.
As has been written, Marco Rubio would rather debase himself — and his office — than risk alienating the Tea Partiers who put him into the Senate. It figures. He’s been nothing but an opportunist throughout his career, which has been defined by winning offices he hasn’t earned and puts to no good use.
Rubio is hardly alone, of course, in putting his own welfare ahead of his country’s.
Rubio and all other Trump apologists deserve to be defeated, every one of them. For our country’s sake, they must be. For the Republican Party’s own sake, they must be.
The cowards should be pushed aside.
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.