Senator, you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?
— Joseph N. Welch addressing Senator Joe McCarthy
I was a boy back in the days of black and white TV when army counsel Joseph Welch confronted red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy with those now famous words during the televised “Army-McCarthy hearings.”
It was a brilliant use of a few select words to finally put Senator McCarthy in his place. The senator had implied that a young lawyer associated with Attorney Welch’s firm had Communist sympathies. Welch then accused McCarthy of recklessly destroying his young associate’s future. He “put a human face” on the broad-brushed accusations that had damaged so many blameless lives.
“Have you no sense of decency.” What a powerful slap down. How many times in the past few years have public figures deserved those words of reproach? – But I must admit that although Welch’s quote was stored somewhere in my head it wasn’t until a few days ago that it popped back into my consciousness.
Two American leaders – the Governor of Florida and the President of the United States – have now stated that legal votes cast by American citizens need not be counted. And they’ve gone further than that, characterizing the demands by candidates and their supporters to count every absentee and early-voting ballot as somehow being a suspicious action driven by shady motives – perhaps even a criminal activity.
This is a very big deal. Sure, I know that voter suppression is not a new phenomenon in the United States. It was refined in the days of Jim Crow by southern Democrats, and under modern day Republicans it has become slicker as it has spread to other regions of our country. We have seen Republican officials reduce the number of voting machines on college campuses and in ethnic neighborhoods, creating long lines, discouraging potential voters from voting. We’ve seen polling places move to locations more inaccessible for certain “undesirable” voters. We’ve seen new voter I.D. rules clearly aimed at reducing the number of black and Hispanic votes.
But such suppression has always been done under the guise of trying to prevent voter fraud or to save tax dollars. These rationalizations have long clouded the enormity of this undemocratic activity for many Americans.
Now two elected leaders, both sworn to protect the Constitution of the United States, have actually spoken out against counting every vote cast in an American election. — I’d say that’s pretty indecent of them. The right of every American citizen to make his or her voice heard at the polls is our most precious right. It is the foundation of our democracy. In fact, it is the very essence of every democracy.
This week Donald Trump and Rick Scott removed any pretense about voter suppression. Wherever it is practiced its purpose is to negate the constitutional rights of targeted Americans. Purposely keeping any citizen from voting or having their vote counted is un-American and should be loudly condemned. This should be one issue that every Republican and Democrat can agree on.
So what happens next? The strategy of stopping American votes from being counted is, according to our president, now officially okay. In not too many days (or hours) we’ll know how rough the Republican are willing to get in denying certain members of our society their most basic right.
Whatever the outcome of the recounts, a new Congress is only weeks away. Members of the 116th Congress are already talking about re-strengthening our democracy. I believe this is more than just post-campaign rhetoric. The United States has been going through a very dangerous time and our democracy and its institutions have indeed been weakened.
Congress can begin the repairs in 2019 — maybe even in a bipartisan way. And in 2020 we can have a new leader in our White House, a leader displaying “a sense of decency, at long last.”
It will be up to us to help make that happen.
NTDO member since 1973