By Cindy Khandoker
By all accounts, Paul Ryan is the GOP’s angel, grappling the line between “the elite establishment” and the alt-right, populist nationalist fervor that has shaken up Washington and the nation. This new assembly eschews modern GOP rules. It is unclear whether they are a loose and motley coalition of disenchanted coal miners, neo-nazis, oligarchs, white supremacists, moneyed billionaires, christian evangelicals and old school bureaucratic politicians (Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Reince, etc.)
But certain trends emerge: they are mesmerized by Trump and his brash personality, somewhat ironically disdainful of the establishment and elitists, and have coined Trumpism a movement, not an agenda or set of principles – many which run counter to traditional GOP political fault lines. They are proud, loud, and unafraid to speak their mind in an era they term smacks of political correctness and for a very long time, they claim to have clamored for a voice to speak for the average joe – and found one, in ‘billionaire’ celebrity apprentice ex host and real estate tycoon Donald Trump, who, before departing for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, lived in a literal gold tower.
The Old GOP is aghast, and not sure what to make of these loud supporters – their uncouth hillbilly cousin- who they’ve shuffled off to the side for so long. Long time GOP senators visibly grimace and scurry away from reporters these days with startling ease, with various leaked reports of strained tensions, and infighting among colleagues unsure of how to satisfy their base, many of whom voted for President Trump, while also maintaining fidelity to traditionally conservative values like small government, strong free market economic policies, and more. The discordant ties have divided a shocked party with the Sean Hannity’s on one side, and the John McCain’s sequestered on the other.
Paul Ryan remains a unique overpass, a scale that struggles to tip under the weight of either side. He is admired by moderates and the ‘old’ GOP, and tepidly supported by Trump surrogates, whose affection wavers as quickly as their faithful leader’s thumbs tweet. It’s easy to understand appeal. Clean shaven, youthful and polite with a full head of dark hair, he comes across as gravely solemn, and carefully parses his words like a seasoned politician in a way that registers as both contemplative and sincere.
It is a successful politician’s best gift. He is a jarring contrast to Trump, matching the glittery with modesty, the ostentatious with a quiet dignity, boastfulness with humility. In a time when it’s become clear that flashy theatrics upstages substance, Ryan represents a frayed bridge between warring factions: something old, something new, something borrowed, and something (not) blue.
While many prominent and lifelong Republicans and conservatives have come out vociferously against Trump, Paul Ryan has decided to act like Switzerland (neutral). As his party’s standard bearer, he has decided to act not unlike a standing judge of the court: silent, ‘impartial’, and distant. In what has become routine and a running gag on twitter, Ryan has his team issue vague and meticulously abstemious pink slips denouncing Trump’s rhetoric and actions while still endorsing him.
The elephant in the room – his tepid and strangling endorsement, whether through silence or indirect dismissals- grows noticeably larger and pinker by the day, a flagrant grimace amidst the rampant racism, vulgarity, sexism, misogyny, pathological lies, bullying and nativism that has defined Mr Trump’s noisy 18 months into the political arena, and the first week of his presidency.
Trump’s poorly written, overreaching and hastily drawn up executive order, that amounts to a Muslim Ban, has shaken the nation to its core. Airports across the nation were flooded with spontaneous protests and lawyers who set up brigades to offer their services pro-bono to confused and bewildered detainees, many of whom are legal US residents and greencard/visa holders, no longer allowed entry into the US. Well-wishers flocked to the airports bearing food, water and support amidst a stunning executive order that tore families apart, and sent refugees and immigrants away from our shores. A Federal Court’s decision in halting his unconstitutional ban was a small, but brief, respite in a sea of endless cacophony.
Trump’s series of policy decisions, if one can reduce it to that, have become a daily misnomer but his latest reckless misstep was both vindictive and purposeful chaos, the dangerous overtures of a man so manifestly unfit for the presidency. His recent actions are not simply disgusting and foul – they are licentious, racist, immoral and unbalanced. His treatment of minorities, and of the persecuted, is never clearer when studying whom it affects – Muslims- and whom it overjoys – white supremacists like Richard Spencer and the KKK’s David Duke, who openly celebrate the new administration and have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity with Trump’s ascendancy.
In a televised interview, Trump declared openly “Islam hates us,” and when asked to clarify, would not back down from demonizing an entire group of people who transcend any one race, nationality or origin. This is someone who openly shows contempt for many of the citizens whom he apparently has yet to realize he has inherited along with his title of Mr. President, and his rhetoric and behavior is a blatant affront for the many hard working, tax paying men and women in this nation who have fled much poorer, and undemocratic countries to forge a life in the land of opportunities and freedom.
Donald Trump is a threat to our American values, and one does not have to look much further than his chief strategist, former Breitbart editor and a voice for white nationalists, Steve Bannon, to understand what has helped shape this anti- immigrant, ethno-centric, hateful world ideology. His policies are thinly veiled xenophobic attacks that work to only exacerbate tensions, and make us even more unsafe, setting up a foundation for future terrorist attacks to become racialized, politicized propaganda under the Trump regime.
Simply put, Donald Trump is a unique threat to American principles, both conservative and liberal. He defies our constitution and the very bedrock of our foundation. He is a black pock on our goodness and decency. Compared to the long storied histories of our neighbors, allies, and enemies alike, the United States, a grand and novel experiment, is but a fraction and slice of time.
That we have achieved such success and greatness in so short a time is a testament to our founding principles and strength of our people and of our constitution but make no mistake – we are very much still a young nation, a mere infant compared to nations around the world, and there are many threats, both obvious and hidden, that seek to subvert and destroy us. The timeless adage – one’s greatest danger is oneself rings true in this case. We are not incapable of dying.
Not too long ago, our country was in the throes of north and south, our very future tipping in the balance, saddled in the hands of Lincoln. Our nation is not one man or woman; but one person does unequivocally have the power to lead us to our demise, unwittingly, but consumingly nonetheless. We will not let the ghosts of nazi flags fly in the halls of a house built by slaves, and occupied by both a black man and the one who questioned his identity.
History is a living, breathing book. We have never forgotten the people who stood idly by, who allowed injustices to occur, who stepped aside when our dearest principles were violated, who were silent when common decency was denied. To be silent, simply, is to be complicit. The blemishes of our past –slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese Internment Camps – must be reckoned with, and can not be lost in the tides of historic amnesia. Life is a reaction to every present and past moment; already this sentence belongs to its predecessor.
So, it is people like Paul Ryan whom I hold in contempt. Trump has shown us who he is, and he has never pretended to be otherwise. Just the other day, senator Elizabeth Warren said, “Where are you now, Paul Ryan? Have you rejected President Trump’s order to impose a religious test for entering our country? Have you introduced a bill to overturn it? You have the power. Where are you?”
Trump continues to be a blight on our nation, embarrassing at times, soberly frightening the next and those who lie down with him, will wake up in his soiled sheets. The question today is both dramatic and necessary – there is no hyperbole, no ‘liberal hysteria’, as Trump’s cronies have cried. You are either on the right side of history, or you are not. It was Jefferson who declared, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”
There is no security, no comfort in someone who is so bombastic in his silence. There is no dignity for someone who claims moral high ground but refuses to practice it, over and over again. Paul Ryan has stood negligently by while the president, of our highest office, has besmirched it’s dignity and insulted the American credo and pride. In his relentless pursuit of political victory and unfulfilled agenda, Ryan has cast aside the sanctity of the American Constitution, and the pledge to protect and defend America. He has dishonored the soldiers that fight for our safety and sullied the GOP mores.
I don’t expect common sense or decency from Donald Trump, but I expected more from Paul Ryan. His cowardice and naked political resolve is shameful. Paul Ryan has, unequivocally, failed. The window is closing. It is simple in this case. He must do the right thing. Whether he chooses to, will stand the test of time as all things do.
Cindy Khandoker is a freelance journalist specializing in gender issues, US politics, identity and culture. Prior to journalism, she co-founded Vuwa Enterprise, a social enterprise that addresses credit risk in rural villages, and worked in tech strategy at Silicon Valley startups. She is a UC Berkeley graduate with a degree in Political Economics.