House Speaker Paul Ryan is wrong on just about every policy issue that faces our country. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner for economics, characterized Ryan as: “an obvious phony who nonetheless convinced the rubes — that is, much of the news media and the political establishment — that he was a brilliant fiscal expert.”
Separate from the Speaker’s lack of actual expertise on economics, Krugman also brilliantly summed up the moral philosophy behind Ryan’s policy approach: “the single animating principle of everything Ryan did and proposed was to comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted.” This post, however, is not about any of those things. This week I have come to praise Paul Ryan, and fellow Republicans like Rep. Trey Gowdy, Rep. Tom Rooney, and Sen. Richard Burr, for doing something very simple, yet which too few members of their party have been willing to do when confronted with a lie told by the party’s leader, Donald Trump. That something is tell the truth.
Since being inaugurated, Trump has told lies at almost impossible pace, one that would result in 10,000 lies by the end of four years in office. We live in a country where our government routinely lies. It is now commonplace, in fact, for the government to say that one thing is true, and then later on say that the opposite is true, as seen in the lies about exactly who was and was not involved in various aspects of the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between top campaign officials and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Trump wasn’t involved in writing the statement released to the media that sought to justify the meeting. And then, according to the White House, Trump did in fact dictate that statement. They simply changed their position. And that’s far from the only position that had to be changed regarding that meeting. Damn if that doesn’t remind me of Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984:
Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.
A large part of the political literature of five years was now completely obsolete. Reports and records of all kinds, newspapers, books, pamphlets, films, sound-tracks, photographs–all had to be rectified at lightning speed. Although no directive was ever issued, it was known that the chiefs of the Department intended that within one week no reference to the war with Eurasia, or the alliance with Eastasia, should remain in existence anywhere.
One of the most dangerous—and that is saying something—of Trump’s lies revolves around the FBI’s investigation of possible Russian infiltration into his 2016 campaign. Mr. Popular Vote Loser claimed, without any evidence, that the Obama Administration had put a “spy” into his campaign, and for “political purposes” no less.
Given that Republicans have generally accepted as gospel most of the things Trump has said, it looked like this “Spygate” lie was going to become another partisan casualty in the Orange Julius Caesar’s war on truth.
However, within a few days of Trump’s falsehoods, some key Republicans in both houses of Congress began pushing back. It started with Gowdy, who forcefully rejected the lie and defended the actions the FBI did take in seeking to uncover the truth about that Russian infiltration: “I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do.”
Then, last Wednesday, Speaker Ryan came down with Gowdy against Trump’s lies (although he did stick with Trump on the “no collusion” with Russia line, saying “there’s no evidence”). They were followed in short order by Rooney—who wondered, “What is the point of saying that there was a spy in the campaign when there was none?”—as well Senator Burr. This pushback is a big deal, although it is important to note that all four of these Republicans have announced that they will not be seeking re-election (Burr’s current term runs until 2022). We’re still waiting for someone actually facing the voters to confront Trump on this vile lie.
I laugh trying to imagine what Ryan—who clearly can’t believe Trump got to be president while he’s stuck as the cat herder of the House Republican caucus—really thinks of the man sitting behind the main desk in the Oval Office. It’s probably not much different from the sentiments expressed by one anonymous GOP congressman, who said: “It’s like Forrest Gump won the presidency, but an evil, really f*cking stupid Forrest Gump.”
Even though he’s heading home to Wisconsin, Ryan still has to run the House until January, and the path of least resistance would have been to go along with the big boss. A number of House Republicans have denounced Ryan (and Gowdy), and have puckered up to the president.
Rep. Matt Gaetz called the Speaker’s statement “shameful,” while Rep. Jim Jordan, one of the founders of the extremist House “Freedom Caucus” (they are apparently “free” from the shackles of the truth), called it “frustrating.”
The only way to weaken this president’s push to convince the Republican base that lies are truth is for Republican leaders across the country—people known and respected by their party’s voters—to stand up and call those lies out for what they are. According a recent Gallup poll, 87% of Republicans support Trump, a number higher than any Republican at this point in his presidency save George W. Bush, whose ratings were bolstered by support for his handling of 9/11. This number may explain why it’s only retiring Republicans who have thus far come out against the lies about Spygate. I don’t know that any members of Trump’s party who want to keep their jobs beyond the current term are brave enough to take a stand. Our country could sure use a bunch of brave Republicans at this point.
In case it wasn’t clear, I don’t like Paul Ryan. But this past week—a week in which he also continued to pursue wrongheaded policies that will harm vulnerable Americans—Ryan and his fellow GOP truth-tellers on Capitol Hill did a great service to our democracy. And for that, whatever their motives, they deserve credit. Let’s hope this kind of truth-telling by Republicans becomes contagious.