The Absence of Honor
America “must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.”
President Dwight David Eisenhower, televised farewell address, Jan. 17, 1961.
BY RICHARD C. GROSS
Thousands of Ukrainians are dying as they rally to save their freedom from a Russia run by a despot determined to conquer a neighboring country for no legitimate reason, a throwback to the last century.
About 5,600 miles to the west as the jetliners fly, America — the self-advertised beacon of democracy — is breaking apart during an attempt by a minority of the population for more than a year to install an autocracy fueled by lies and the restriction of freedoms to vote, read, learn history, mind your own body and to be who you want to be.
At the same time, the separation of church and state, a tenet of American democracy, seems to be threatened.
The juxtaposition between a Ukraine whose people are willing to die for their country against enormous odds and the freedom they believe in — think 1776 and the colonies — and a segment of the American population so engrossed in conjuring up a country the majority would abhor is a harbinger of tears. Whatever happened to majority rule?
The former is an example of honor and integrity. The latter is an example of disgrace, brought to us by a twice-impeached Trump and his far-right Republican and white supremacist disciples.
President Joe Biden is trying mightily to right the ship of state, to get us back to who we were and what we stood for before we were consumed with a shameless blowhard whose goal was to be another Vladimir Putin. He almost succeeded Jan. 6, 2021, another “day of infamy.”
But Biden is having a difficult time steering the country back on course, and not because he’s not doing all the right things. He can’t seem to overcome the cacophony right-wing Republicans are creating by shouting down every move he makes, except one: giving money and weapons to Ukraine to fight the Russians, though more and more Republicans are backing out. Not long ago, the 1950s, the right-wing hated the Russians and their communism.
In those days, when I was a teen focused on riding horses and reading the New York World-Telegram and Sun and Dorothy Schiff’s New York Post my dad brought home in the evenings, Republicans were a different breed.
Dwight David Eisenhower was president. He ran the war in Europe successfully, though he made mistakes early on in North Africa and Sicily. The overwhelming Allied victory on D-Day in 1944 and his winning smile and friendly personality saved his reputation.
As president, he led the Soviets and the United Nations in cutting short Britain, France and Israel in their secretly plotted war against Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956 for his nationalization of the Suez Canal, a vital waterway for the transport of oil to the West.
When Israel attacked Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula Oct. 29 that year, Ike went ballistic. He felt cheated by British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, who had assured Eisenhower the Suez crisis would be solved diplomatically with Nasser, according to historian Jean Edward Smith in his “Eisenhower in War and Peace,” published in 2012. British and French shareholders owned the canal, opened in 1869.
At a hastily convened meeting in the Oval Office, Ike told Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, “Nothing justifies double-crossing us. I don’t care whether I’m re-elected or not (he was). We must make good on our word [to prevent hostilities], otherwise we are a nation without honor.”
Yes, honor — seemingly forgotten in an America darkened by a bullying, lying drug lord-like don without scruples or conscience. Proof? See “A Sacred Oath” by his former secretary of defense, Mark T. Esper.
He wrote that as president, Trump suggested that America launch missiles into Mexico to “destroy the drug labs” and asked why our soldiers couldn’t “just shoot” people in the legs who demonstrated in Washington against racial injustice, according to The New York Times.
A Fox “News” host asked Esper, 58, if Trump was a threat to democracy.
“I think that given the events of Jan. 6, given how he has undermined the election results, he incited people to come to D.C, stirred them up that morning and failed to call them off, to me that threatens our democracy,” Esper replied.
This from a man who served as an infantry officer in the 101st Airborne Division during the Gulf War, as Army secretary and as chief of staff of the conservative Heritage Foundation. Trump fired him as defense secretary in 2020.
Pop quiz: Compare and contrast today’s Republican leaders with Ike. Provide examples.
The Republicans are on a roll, cutting back or threatening to limit freedoms even more if the Supreme Court decides to delete the constitutional right to an abortion. That includes barging into bedrooms.
Just look at what’s going on: Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves posed the possibility he would ban certain forms of contraception. The Louisiana legislature has put forward a bill that would charge abortion as homicide and grant someone constitutional rights “from the moment of fertilization,” The Washington Post reported about both.
Enter the absurd. Author J.D. Vance, a Trump endorsee for an Ohio Senate seat, said Biden purposely allowed fentanyl-type drugs to flood the “heartland” of the country to try to kill Trump supporters there, Post fact checker Glenn Kessler wrote. He gave Vance four Pinocchios.
Honor, American style.
We’re at the stage as a country at which the more liberal Senate Democrats put forward the Women’s Health Protection Act to make the right to abortion a federal law. (That should have been done years ago.) They hoped it would fail so it would energize voters to demonstrate and vote Democratic. It lost 51–49. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., voted with all 50 Republicans.
“We will not back down, and we will not forget those who put politics over our health and rights,” Alexis McGill Johnson, head of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.
As the late comedian George Carlin put it in 1996 in a riff on opposition to abortion by conservatives: “They will do everything for the unborn, but once you’re born, you’re on your own.”
Thousands of pro-choice folks demonstrated nationwide Saturday, but I doubt they will have any influence on the court’s forthcoming final decision. Political commentators have been predicting the 6–3 conservative justices will overturn Roe v. Wade and that, as a result, worse will come at the state level when Republicans limit more freedoms, including killing same-sex marriage.
I’m beginning to feel like that poor frog in a warming pot of water. It could be worse. Live lobsters get thrown into a pot of boiling water. We’re not there yet. Yet.
Richard C. Gross, a correspondent, bureau chief and foreign editor of United Press International, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.