Letter to Katko #2 - Speak Up
Congressman John Katko
1620 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Re: Your Deafening Silence
Dear Congressman Katko:
It is time for you to focus on the most urgent needs facing our country—honesty and decency. Never before has our country so sorely needed honesty and decency in our public discourse, and never before have these values been in such short supply. In an era where our President has turned integrity into a punch line, we look desperately for elected officials who will model ethical behavior and provide moral leadership. Congressman Katko, you have yet to deliver, and there is no indication that you ever will.
From February through April, many of your Republican colleagues refused to face their constituents in town hall forums across the country. Shielded by Republican talking points, you joined them. This decision led to condemnation from your constituents who are becoming increasingly angry and noticeably more organized. There was no shortage of letters, phone calls, op-eds, and social media attention dedicated to your refusal to hold any form of a substantive town hall meeting. Despite this outcry, you have continued to avoid your constituents during the April recess. While we do not minimize the importance of your disappearing act, we are worried that there is another story being lost in the noise; and that is, your silence and tacit approval of the Trump administration’s war on honesty and decency in public discourse. Honesty and decency are neither partisan nor controversial, and they are absolute requirements for the survival of democracy. Without both, our system of government simply does not function. It is time for you to accept as much and start to hold the Trump administration accountable. Thus far, you have let us down.
President Trump is a compulsive liar. This is not meant as an insult, but rather as a statement of fact. Donald Trump lies incessantly and openly in a way that is completely unprecedented in American politics. Since taking office on January 20, 2017, President Trump has, on almost a daily basis, made blatant and intentionally false statements to the American public. From claims regarding the size of the inauguration crowd to statements concerning General Flynn’s contacts with Russia to totally unfounded and unproven allegations of “wiretapping,” in just over three months the Trump administration has made a mockery of truth. President Trump’s lies are often so egregious that it is tempting to dismiss them as humorous. But this would be a mistake. As Trump’s presidency continues, he will become a better, more dangerous liar. As the lies add up, we as Americans will become increasingly numb to their existence. The nature of reality itself will become harder to discern, and our democracy will become harder to sustain.
But to make matters worse, the majority of our Republicans leaders refuse to speak out, and incredibly, you have been one of the quietest. Prior to President Trump’s election, you went on record to state “there’s absolutely no way I can support him. I want to make it clear from the beginning I haven't supported him.” But since the election you have not once pushed back on a single proven falsehood that has come from the Trump administration’s lips. You have made no statements correcting specific lies disseminated by President Trump or his advisers, nor have you shown the moral leadership to release a statement of your own condemning the consistent use of “alternative facts” to mislead the American public. To say this is confusing is an understatement. You have gone from “never-Trump” to an unapologetic Trump supporter. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that you are playing politics, supporting him while you perceive it to be politically expedient. This is not acceptable. The stakes are too high for such weakness, especially when we have a President that is dangerously untethered to facts. As the truth continues to speak for itself, your silence sends a message that we can’t ignore.
Decency in Public Discourse
The second crucial piece of our democracy that is at risk of crumbling under the weight of the current administration is general decency in public discourse. This does not require agreement on each (or even any) issue. But to disagree without being completely disagreeable is a central foundation of the conversations and debates necessary to respond to the complexity of the world around us. The Trump administration has proudly refused to behave as decent human beings. From sitting senators to disabled reporters to religious minorities to the judiciary to entire categories of immigrants, the administration seems to relish in personally belittling anyone who disagrees or challenges them. Less than three weeks ago, the Trump administration used the horrible gassing of children in Syria as an opportunity to take political potshots at President Obama. That is not strength; that is depravity.
Moreover, those that believe the Trump administration’s venomous words and targeting of minorities are inconsequential have already been proven wrong. In the past few months, multiple acts of violence targeting ethnic and religious minorities have occurred. As Elie Wiesel so profoundly observed, “[w]e must always take sides . . . Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Congressman Katko, it is time for you to take a stand. Sitting idle and observing the Trump administration’s bullying, belittling, and shameful behavior is a moral failure of epic proportions.
Congressman Katko, you regularly call yourself a moderate conservative. In fact, you were re-elected in part because you indicated that you were a Republican who would stand up to a demagogue like President Trump. Unfortunately, it seems as though you have made the calculated decision to realign your moral compass and ingratiate yourself with an administration that celebrates indecency and demands subservience. What we seek is neither earth-shattering nor ideological. It is simply the strength, courage, and backbone from our elected representative to do the right thing on a basic human level. Call a lie a lie. Stand up for those that are unnecessarily and unfairly being demonized. Take a stand for civility. And when bedrock principles such as truth and decency are under attack, speak up.
Jealous Guardians of Democracy,