Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona has made a name for himself by severely criticizing President Donald Trump, which is highly unusual considering they are from the same political party. The retiring senator made perhaps his harshest comments yet about Trump in his commencement address to Harvard Law School.
His attack was directed not just at the president but also at Congress who he accused of failing to exercise proper oversight over the executive branch as is required by the U.S. Constitution.
“Our presidency has been debased by a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division and only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works,” Flake said. “And our Article I branch of government, the Congress, is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily.”
Since announcing his retirement from the U.S. Senate, Flake has been one of the most vocal critics of the president, and has even gone to the Senate floor to make speeches expressing his views about Trump’s — and his colleagues’ — shortcomings.
Some considered his Wednesday address too bitter and gloomy for new graduates, since commencement speeches typically are filled with encouragement, and intended to fill graduates with a sense of hope and optimism.
“All is not well,” Flake told the graduates from the nation’s top law school. “We have a sickness of the spirit.” Then he added:
“This is it, if you have been wondering what the bottom looks like. This is what it looks like when you stress-test all of the institutions that undergird our constitutional democracy, at the same time. You could say that we are witnesses to history, and if it were possible to divorce ourselves from the obvious tragedy of this debacle, I suppose that might even be interesting, from an academic perspective. The way some rare diseases are interesting to medical researchers.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Flake expressed disappointment and unhappiness with other GOP members of Congress, saying:
“I hoped that more of my colleagues would speak up. Sometimes we are starting to look more and more like the cabinet meeting with members exhibiting overwhelming obsequiousness to Trump. And that’s concerning. This is an independent branch of government. We have to more jealously guard our prerogatives.”
For a conservative Republican to take a strong position against a president of his own party is an admirable thing, but many critics believe that he could do more than he has done. He is supportive of legislation to protect the Mueller investigation but has done little to actually get it passed. He also has voted consistently to support Trump’s agenda, saying that with many of Trump’s positions he is in “ideological agreement.”
Flake apparently believes that his party will face a day of reckoning in November, and whatever fate they suffer at the hands of voter will be well deserved. He told The Daily Beast:
“I do think that elections are pretty clarifying. Nothing clarifies like a bad election loss and we may be heading there as Republicans. Whether I wish it or not, I do think it is coming. And I think we brought this on ourselves.”
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.