Home/Rod Dreher/A Nation Of Chair-Throwers?

A Nation Of Chair-Throwers?

Republics, empires, civilizations fall, you know (Simone Padovani/Shutterstock)

Marco Rubio gave a tremendous speech on the floor of the Senate, defending the GOP majority’s silencing of Elizabeth Warren for violating the Senate rule against insulting a member in Senate debate. You might think that you have no interest in hearing it. You would be wrong. Here are excerpts from the transcript:

Turn on the news and watch these parliaments around the world where people throw chairs at each other, and punches, and ask yourself how does that make you feel about those countries? It doesn’t give you a lot of confidence about those countries. Now I’m not arguing that we’re anywhere near that here tonight, but we’re flirting with it. We’re flirting with it in this body and we are flirting with it in this country. We have become a society incapable of having debates anymore.


I know that tonight is probably a made-for-TV moment for some people. This has nothing to do with censoring the words of some great heroes. I have extraordinary admiration for the men and women who led the civil rights effort in this country. I am self-conscious enough and understanding to know that many of the things that have been possible for so many people in this country in the 21st century were made possible by the sacrifices and the work of those in that movement that came before us. This has to do with the fundamental reality and that is this body cannot carry out its work if it is not able to conduct debates in a way that is respectful of one another, especially those of us who are in this chamber together. And I also understand this, that if the Senate ceases to work, if we reach a point where this institution, given everything else that is going on in politics today where you are basically allowed to say just about anything. For I have seen over the last year and half things said about people, about issues, about institutions in our republic, that I would never thought I would see. Ever. Ever.

If we lose this body’s ability to conduct debate in a dignified manner, and I mean this with no disrespect towards anyone else – I don’t believe anyone else came on this floor here tonight saying, “I am going to be disrespectful on purpose and turn this into a circus.” But I am just telling you that if this body loses the ability to have those sorts of debate, then where in this country is that going to happen? What other forum in this nation is that going to be possible?

Read — or watch — the whole thing at this link.

I think Rubio is right, and right in an important way — a way that even pro-Warren partisans should stop and think about. We started down the long road to this point long before Trump showed up on the political scene, and even before Rubio was elected to the Senate. That said, the conduct of our president and some of his circle since he took office has fallen far, far short of the dignity of their offices, such that with respect to Rubio’s point about chair-throwing foreign parliamentarians, I find myself embarrassed for our country.

For instance, it’s a good thing that Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Rep. Elijah Cummings, the GOP chairman and the ranking minority member on the House government oversight committee, issued a letter today calling for an official ethics review of Kellyanne Conway — this, over her cheap shilling for Ivanka Trump’s clothing line on TV this morning. It was truly a demeaning moment, having a top White House adviser on live television acting like some kind of QVC salesman. It’s the kind of thing that you might have expected during the campaign, but Conway works as counselor to the President of the United States, and was on TV in her official capacity as a spokesman for the White House. 

Of course, she wouldn’t have been on TV at all had our temperamentally unsound president not blasted on Twitter a department store chain for offloading his daughter’s clothing line

Anybody who might have held out a shred of hope that becoming US president would cause Trump to assume a shred of dignity appropriate to his high office will have by now been disabused of that folly. You don’t have to be a fan of John McCain’s viewpoints to be shocked that a Vietnam draft dodger like Donald Trump would publicly impugn him as a loser over McCain’s criticism of the Yemen raid:

It’s all very discouraging. You might have seen a month ago that Baby Boomer liberal Catholic priest in Michigan, preaching from his pulpit while wearing a pussyhat? (Photo here; scroll down.) A narcissist who takes his role as the spiritual father of his congregation so unseriously cannot expect to be taken seriously. Same principle here. Policies aside, Trump demeans the presidency and thereby dissipates his authority. Trump is not operating from a position of strength when he does things like this, but of craven weakness.

Does he really think that carrying on like this inspires loyalty and confidence in his leadership? After he’s gone, what will it take to restore dignity and decorum to the presidency? And how long?

Of course Trump isn’t the only one. Elizabeth Warren demeaned the Senate with her anti-Sessions stunt. Marco Rubio is right: members of the Senate on both sides had better think hard about what they are doing to the institutions of the Republic with their behavior. There’s a lot more at stake here than mere political power. Sen. Rubio gets it.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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