“Treason is not a punchline”
Posted on Feb 06 2018
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) today spoke on the Senate floor in response to the president’s comments describing freely-elected members of Congress as “un-American” and “treasonous” for choosing not to applaud during the State of the Union:
“I have seen the president’s most ardent defenders use the now-weary argument that the president’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue in cheek. But treason is not a punchline. As members of Congress, we must not ever accept undignified discourse as normal because of the requirements of tribal party politics.”
Video of Flake’s remarks can be viewed here.
A complete transcript of Flake’s prepared remarks can be viewed below.
Mr. President, last fall I had the honor to stand in this chamber and deliver remarks on a subject of great and growing concern to me – the stewardship of our democracy at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government.
I stand again today to sound the same alarm.
Mr. President, words matter.
Have we arrived at such a place of numb acceptance that we have nothing to say when a President of the United States casually suggests that those who choose not to stand or applaud his speech are guilty of treason? I sincerely hope not.
One who levels such a charge knows neither the meaning of treason nor the power that the words of a president carry.
And if we are numb to such words, then we will surely regret that we failed to defend our colleagues in the congress against such a vile remark, but our silence will also mark the day that we failed to recognize that this conduct in an American president simply is not normal.
I wish I could stand here today and say that my words of last October had been proven wrong, that I had been unfair to inveigh against the daily sundering of our country – that I had been mistaken about the personal attacks, that I had exaggerated the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.
I wish I could say that I had been wrong, but I cannot.
I have seen the president’s most ardent defenders use the now-weary argument that the president’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue in cheek. But treason is not a punchline, Mr. President.
The president said that the State of the Union address was meant to promote and encourage unity in government. Then why follow up less than a week later with this divisive and harmful rhetoric. Unity is not secured in a speech. It must be pursued constantly through appropriate behavior, mutual respect, and gained by effective leadership.
Mr. President, respect is earned not commanded. Applause signals approval of an idea, not loyalty to one’s country. Our democratic colleagues love this country as much as we do, and to suggest otherwise is unconscionable.
None of us in Congress pledge loyalty or service to the president. This is not a royal court. Our oath is to the constitution and to the people. As members of Congress, we must not ever accept undignified discourse as normal because of the requirements of tribal party politics. None of this behavior should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that this is just the way things are now.
We will get through this period and when we do, we will look back on the destruction of our discourse and the attacks on our democratic values as nothing but a tragedy. May we also be able to say that they were an aberration.
But that, my colleagues, is up to us. We must recognize that this is aberrant, destructive behavior, whatever rationale its defenders may offer. And we must never shrink from opposing it. For it is in opposing this behavior that we defend our norms, our ideals and our values. It is in opposing this behavior that we stand for decency.