You did not stand up.
Granted, America faced neither enemy bombers nor terrorist plot, but the threat to her was — still is — no less real. Your country needed you.
And you did not stand up.
You told yourself party was more important. You told yourself the courts were more important. You told yourself tax cuts were more important. And you convinced yourself you could put up with his bluster and bullying, with his lies, his hatefulness, his bungling, his complete unfitness, if that was the price those things demanded. You could keep your head down, nod a lot, say as little as possible and, when pressed, pretend to believe the unbelievable, support the insupportable, find no offense in the blatantly offensive.
Your country needed you. You did not stand up.
Now here we are, just days before the election, and your president, the man you Republicans clung to like Jack and Rose on the stern of Titanic, seems poised to do what Titanic did. No one old enough to remember the airless shock of election night 2016 is taking anything for granted, mind you. On the other hand, one would much rather have Joe Biden’s polling numbers right now than Donald Trump’s.
Many of you seem to agree. Lately, one can hardly open a paper or go online without seeing one of you edging carefully away from the man to whom you once stuck like Velcro. There’s Sen. John Cornyn comparing his fealty to Trump to a woman who marries a bad man, thinking she can change him. There’s Sen. Ben Sasse criticizing Trump for cozying up to dictators and white supremacists. There’s Sen. Martha McSally bobbing and weaving like Muhammad Ali when asked if she is proud of supporting Trump. And so on.
Well, to all of you — lawmakers, administration officials, party hacks and other assorted enablers — who have tardily discovered that Trump is a disaster that walks like a man, we have something to say. That’s not the editorial we, by the way. It is, rather, the we of those Americans who watched in apoplectic dismay as our country — its norms, its values, its virtues, its verities and its laws — came under attack while you failed to stand up.
I suspect I speak for more than a few of them when I say that your 11th-hour attempts to put distance between you and Trump do not fool us. As far as we’re concerned, the stink of what you did — what you failed to do — will follow you the rest of your days. May it make you less employable. May it haunt you at sidewalk cafes. May your kids ask you about it. And for any of you who broke the law — up to and including Trump himself — may there be prosecution to the fullest extent.
Maybe that sounds vindictive. America is, after all, a nation of second chances. Mike Tyson went from a rape conviction to Hollywood movies. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton went from scandal-tainted punchlines to respected party elders. And the argument will inevitably be made that we ought not dwell in the past, that we need to move on.
To which, we say: not this time. Redemption is a fine thing. Moving on is, too.
But sometimes, you need accountability. Not simply as a salve for what is wounded in us now, but also as a warning to those who would wound us in the future. Maybe they’ll be less likely to do so if they see that there is a price to pay for sitting down when your country needs you to stand. So let this be the message from the American majority to Trump and his enablers.
We will not forget.
And we will not forgive.
NOTE: In a recent column, I used “Stars and Bars” as a synonym for the notorious Confederate battle flag. The “Stars and Bars” was actually the national flag of the Confederacy. I regret the error.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.