Opinion: How far is too far?

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Last week was a particularly interesting week in politics. Governor Andrew Cuomo in his unbridled pursuit to appeal to the left leaning activists in the Democratic Party who he fears will support Cynthia Nixon in next month’s primary for Governor, again attacked President Trump. For most Democrats this is low hanging fruit. But in doing so he committed a major political faux pas. Speaking off the cuff Andrew Cuomo declared that America has “never been all that great,” a clear reference to Trump’s slogan of “making America great again”. That was a big oops.

With apologies to: Native Americans who were pushed off their land to make way for new Americans; black people who were legally enslaved in this nation until 1865; women who were deprived of the right to vote until 1920; American citizens who were imprisoned during World War II for the “crime” being of Japanese descent; thousands of other Americans who were blacklisted during the Joe McCarthy “Red Scare” days… Americans overwhelmingly think that America was and is great.

And with all our blemishes, imperfections and failures, I agree. Our political system of representative government was historic. Our national mission statement to protect free speech and one’s right to worship in their own way was unheard of 250 years ago. Our Constitution is among the most copied documents, a template for emerging democracies. And the generosity of the American people and (historically at least) our government to aid the less fortunate and oppressed around the globe is unmatched in human history.

So Andrew Cuomo went off script and said something that was politically stupid and offensive to veterans and many others. It will surely come back to haunt him as he seeks support around the country for his much-desired 2020 bid for the White House. The reaction to his remark from many Democratic Party leaders around the state and elsewhere was swift and pointedly critical. Those detractors risk incurring the wrath of Mr. Cuomo who does not appreciate dissent.

But what about the Republicans and the current occupant of the White House? Over his 19 months as President, Donald Trump has said some pretty vile and objectionable things with little or no pushback from his fellow Republicans.

Last week was no exception. He called a former White House aide and confidant, who is now criticizing him, “a crazed lowlife dog.” He called his own attorney general a coward for not ending the probe into Russian election meddling and possible collusion in 2016. And he called Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller a “national disgrace,” worse than Joseph McCarthy. He singled out for political retribution a group of highly respected former national security officials who have served Republican and Democratic Presidents but are now speaking out against his actions. Trump threatened to punish their free speech by withdrawing their security clearance.

He has already acted on that threat against former CIA Director John Brennan. Former FBI Director James Comey and others are next in his cross hairs. He again referred to the American press as the “opposition party” and the “enemy of the people.” He has called them horrible dishonest people and “scum.”

Such speak and acts of intimidation and revenge is not just unpresidential, it is unprecedented. And what was the reaction to these rants from members of his own party? Ho Hum. The common thread in all this is that any person or entity that exercises their first amendment prerogatives by challenging Donald Trump will be attacked, vilified and punished by this president. And his supporters seem to be willing to look the other way in every instance. Of course none of this is normal and all of it is profoundly dangerous. It is after all the stock and trade of dictators.

So the question is how far must this President go before his Republican colleagues in government are willing to push back on his divisive attacks and his aberrant authoritarian behavior? Evidently for most he has not yet gone far enough.

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