Let’s say you’re standing next to some railroad tracks, and see a runaway train approaching. If nobody interferes, the train will kill a dozen people tied to the tracks some distance away. But luckily, there you are, standing next to a lever. If you pull the lever, you will divert the runaway train to a section of track where it will kill one person instead. Do you pull the lever?
Okay, what if the same runaway train is heading down the same segment of track, and instead of definitely killing a dozen people, it might kill millions, and will probably kill at least a few thousand. If you pull the lever and successfully divert the train, the train conductor, who has no idea how to drive a train, will get mad at you on Twitter for insulting his train-driving skills. Do you pull the lever? Or do you let the train continue on its disastrous course, watch as the people die by the tens of thousands, and then call your favorite member of the press and tell them off the record that you strongly disapprove of the train?
On Monday, venerated reporter Carl Bernstein named 21 Republican senators who he says have “repeatedly expressed extreme contempt for Trump and his fitness to be [president].” Twenty-one. A number approaching half of the GOP caucus in the Senate. Imagine that 21 people had their hands on 21 levers, each of which would help stop the runaway train and prevent the deaths of thousands of innocent people, and nobody pulled theirs. “Dang it,” whispers Richard Shelby, hand on his lever, as the train crashes into thousands of people. Susan Collins frowns.
Donald Trump has been a historically successful president, in that his stupidity has destroyed more things than any president in recent memory. America’s standing in the world is about as pristine as an iPhone screen that got dropped face-first on a pile of rocks. Trump’s fumbling of the COVID pandemic has killed indiscriminately, a morbid coalition much more diverse than any voting bloc Trump managed to secure. And, after getting his large ass handed to him by both the popular vote and electoral college, Trump has turned his sights on the process itself, sowing doubt on the democratic process in his millions of disciples. Trump isn’t yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater. He’s lighting fires in a crowded theater.
But don’t worry, citizens. While they’ve been publicly supportive, many senators in a position to help put a stop to this madness have been privately concerned for quite some time. It’s heroic, if you think about it. Imagine the mental energy it must have taken them to publicly support a man they dislike so strongly. We’re talking Hannah Montana-levels of double lives. Chuck Grassley is 165 years old, and he’s got COVID, and he managed to do it.
Some of the senators on Bernstein’s list are exactly who you’d expect—Lisa Murkowski, for example, has all but written TRUMP SUCKS on the backs of her eyelids, so that when she blinks, the CSPAN cameras broadcast her true feelings. Mitt Romney, another unsurprising entry on the list, actually voted in favor of one article of Trump’s impeachment, which is much more “something” than the “nothing” that other secretly mad senators like Senator Tim Scott have done. South Dakota’s John Thune is on the list. He’s voted in line with Donald Trump’s views 94 percent of the time. Both senators from Florida are in the Secret Frown society, but Rick Scott actually raised money for Trump’s reelection, and Marco Rubio has spent so much of the last four years licking Trump’s boots that he’s only had time to fire off a few sanctimonious Tweets of Bible verses.
On Monday afternoon, Republicans’ cartoonish attempts to both publicly participate in Donald Trump’s war on reality and privately acknowledge that reality exists reached a breaking point, when the General Services Administration’s Emily Murphy sent a letter to the Biden transition team acknowledging that what happened on Election Day 2020 actually happened, and funds would be freed up for the president-elect’s transition. Murphy’s letter was, like most things that emanate from Trumpworld, weird and self-pitying (and accompanied by a flattering soft-focus profile on CNN.com, which I tried and failed to get through because obstructing the democratic process this one time is the only interesting thing about Emily Murphy. She’s George Papadopolous-levels of dull). But the free-up of GSA funds meant that, once again, and for the thirtieth-ish time since November 3rd, it is over, Biden won. The little button on the turkey thermometer has popped. It’s done.
Now that the stakes are zero, some of the Republican Senators that Bernstein revealed privately think Trump might be bad have come forward to call for unity and statesmanship. Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, who is retiring when his term expires in January and privately hates Donald Trump, released a statement on Twitter urging Trump to “take pride in his considerable accomplishments, put the country first, and have a prompt and orderly transition.” Such unbelievable bravery! Expect more valiant displays of snakesmanship over the next few days.
Monday’s events prove that the political party aligned with people who lament a “masculinity crisis” in this country is led by so, so many little bitches who are more afraid of the president Tweeting at them than they are of having led a meaningless, cowardly life. Senate Republicans model none of the qualities that make a good man, or even a good person. Would a real manly man skip the post-game handshake to hold a press conference complaining about the referees? Would a strong, decisive, and morally upright person say one thing in public but whine the opposite in private? Aren’t our elected officials supposed to represent the best of us? Where are the men who say what they mean and mean what they say? Is there any difference between the Senate and the most toxic lunch table in the whole middle school? Where have all the cowboys gone? Somebody fetch Candace Owens!
But irony aside, these whispering senators have done immense damage to the country, even if they’ve spared their own careers. “With few exceptions, their craven public silence has helped enable Trump’s most grievous conduct—including undermining and discrediting the US electoral system,” Bernstein added.
He’s right. But the problem of senators wanting to have their cake and secretly eat it, too, isn’t just the senators themselves. It’s also the people who help them keep secrets. It’s journalists who bend over backward to honor requests for confidentiality and anonymity from people who don’t deserve it.
At this nth consecutive moment of national reckoning, it’s time for the press to stop letting a Washington elite who “quietly” disapprove, who “privately” express “concern,” who find all this “confidentially” and “secretly” worrying, or even—sacré bleu!—“troubling” off the hook by serving as their private confessionals or free PR firms. If the “quietly troubled” of Washington need somebody to serve as receptacles for all that’s troubling them, they should get therapists. If the “privately disapproving” are worried about getting invited to cool parties when all this is over, they should get publicists.
Bernstein made sure, before outing nearly half of the GOP’s senate majority as clandestinely upset about a problem they had the power to solve but didn’t, that he wasn’t violating any confidentiality agreements, that he was journalisming correctly. To that, I say: this could not matter any less to 99% of America, because being precious about a professional code of conduct at a time of crisis is silly. It’s about as anti-common sense as a firefighter refusing to enter a burning building because his socks are dirty. The only people who care about whether or not Carl Bernstein was following every single little norm of journalism are journalism professors, twitter scolds, aging reporters who ask the interns to print out their email for them, and dull members of the media who have no concept of morality outside of what they were taught in j-school. Some of these categories overlap.
The 21 senators on this list aren’t quietly good, like a Brian Eno record. They’re quietly bad, like a James Blunt concert. The secret shit-talkers of the Trump era are not any better than the Qanon lunatics encouraging their constituents to spend Thanksgiving defiantly stuffing their faces in large multi-household groups during a pandemic (even though--to be fair-- the 21 senators would be less obnoxious to sit next to on an airplane than that nutty congresswoman-elect from Georgia). The 21 are just a different type of bad.
Iowa’s Chuck Grassley has said more about Dairy Queen and dead deer than he has about the moral crisis facing the country he supposedly serves, which he secretly acknowledges but won’t say out loud. What a rotten person.
People in the press as powerful as Bernstein should be outing public official cowards who are privately, worse-than-uselessly troubled more often. In fact, this list of Trump’s most vehement shit-talkers would have been helpful to release to the public before the election, when voters re-elected Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, Maine’s Susan Collins, Texas’s John Cornyn and tossed Arizona’s Martha McSally, all of whom are members of the Double Plus Secret Trump Disapproval Club. (Come to think of it, it would have also been helpful to the American people if Bernstein’s Watergate story copilot Bob Woodward had released his tapes of the president acknowledging the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic before 100,000 Americans died, rather than holding onto them for six months and releasing them when he had a book to promote, but that’s another rant for a different time.)
As journalists trip over themselves to be fair to Trump’s enablers, America is being stripped and sold for parts. Every three days, one 9/11’s worth of people dies from COVID-19. Why does anybody care about respecting the wishes of the henchmen who allowed this to happen? But are we being fair to Susan Collins? Fuck Susan Collins.
This has to end. There can be no more “sources familiar with Ivanka’s thinking” confessing to a White House reporter that Ivanka feels sad about some stuff, and having that fart-in-the-wind somehow making the paper of record. No more trees should have to die in the service of puff pieces assuring the public that while the President has spent the last four years yelling dumb, racist shit from the toilet or a golf cart, The Good People around him “quietly” tried to “moderate” him. No more Jared, The Unsung Hero. No more Kellyanne Felt A Little Bad. No Actually John Kelly Was Secretly Good. It’s over. It’s irresponsible. It’s worse than useless. It’s harmful.
The media should be in the business of telling the truth, not keeping secrets. Senators should be in the business of making hard decisions that are in the best interest of the American people, not cowering in a bathroom stall because they’re afraid of mean Tweets from the president. And we, the people, should no longer accept such wimpy, cowardly displays from the people whose jobs are supposed to be hard, says a source familiar with my thinking.