Votes on the “bipartisan” infrastructure bill in the Senate in August and last Friday in the House should have been overwhelmingly in favor of passage. The 2021 Infrastructure Report Card from the Society of Civil Engineers gives roads a D, transit a D-, bridges a C, schools a D+, energy a C- and it goes on from there.
It doesn’t take a report card to realize the extent of investment needed to address deterioration of the nation’s infrastructure. The evidence is everywhere.
That didn’t stop former president Donald Trump from lashing out against responsible Republicans. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell was among the 16 senators Trump bashed. In a statement Trump wrote: “All Republicans who voted for Democrat longevity should be ashamed of themselves, in particular Mitch McConnell ... How about all of those Republican Senators that voted thinking that helping the Democrats is such a wonderful thing to do, so politically correct. They just don’t get it!”
Putting national needs ahead of raw politics, Rep. Don Young, R-AL, spoke for his 13 colleagues in the House who supported the bill last Friday: “We need infrastructure in this country now…. to make sure those potholes are filled, those airports run right, that bridges are safe, and our economy can continue to grow.”
That was enough for Trump sycophants to lash out. “Every Republican who voted for the infrastructure bill must be eliminated from the party,” tweeted Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-FL. He wasn’t alone.
Substance no longer counts, if it ever did, among far-right radicals including Rep. Paul Gosar, R-AZ, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-FL, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA. Greene saw the votes as a “Communist takeover of America via so-called infrastructure.”
Mitch McConnell apparently missed Greene’s interpretation in his analysis that led to his support.
Trump and his allies continue their intimidation through fear and outrage. It still seems to be working. Unfortunately, true conservatives who remain faithful to principles of smaller government, lower taxes, free markets, foreign policy alliances and a strong defense are being driven out of the party by “leaders” who value self-preservation in the age of Trump above all else.
Trump might run again, but can he broaden his base? He’ll never build a real team. Yes, he’s built a business empire. But he did it without accountability to a board of directors. He misleads lenders, lawyers and his own managers. No public corporation, not a nonprofit, not even a small business would seek such an executive. At some point, a Republican leader might say “enough is enough” and it will have meaning. But not yet.
Consider the Gosar effect. Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, a complete Trump loyalist, is a dentist who forgot his Hippocratic oath. He tweeted a video Monday with animation showing him striking with a sword another representative at the other end of the political spectrum. Think about what would happen in a workplace if an employee posted a video of killing a fellow employee. Maybe that helps explain why six of Gosar’s nine siblings endorsed his opponent.
Contrast Donald Trump with former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, now of Tampa Bay Bucs fame, and Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker. Think about the characteristics of strong leaders. Think about how Tom Brady leads a team, celebrates success and inspires excellence year after year. and how Charlie Baker works across the aisle to get results.
A few years ago, Robert Half, the international human resources consulting firm, offered a list of 30 traits of “mentally strong people.” (https://www.roberthalf.com/blog/management-tips/30-character-traits-of-mentally-strong-people) Four traits seem particularly relevant to today’s political environment: drama-free, takes responsibility, celebrates others’ success and learns from mistakes.
Donald Trump is all about drama. He deflects responsibility for actions and outcomes that are easily open to criticism. He credits only himself. and he doesn’t appear to learn from mistakes. Brady acknowledges mistakes and celebrates success of others.
Donald Trump is not a team player. He’s quick to disparage and dispatch those whose comments and actions he sees as disloyal. He’s not a fan of Charlie Baker who favors collaboration and compromise.
Imagine Donald Trump, or any of his die-hard supporters who fear his wrath, saying “We must have courage to set partisanship aside and embrace the best ideas and solutions no matter which side of the aisle they come from.” Governor Baker said it.
The infrastructure bill deserved overwhelming support. The country needs it. Whether the pending Build Back Better bill is too large, too expansive and simply an overreach needs to be argued on substance. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and a few prominent Democrat economists are pushing back with substantive arguments.
It’s time for Republicans to do the same. Enough of Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accusing Big Bird of spreading propaganda about COVID-19 vaccinations. Enough of Senator Josh Howley, R-Missouri, declaring masculinity a campaign issue — “Your masculinity is inherently problematic.”
At some point, maybe civility and substance will replace anger and hostility and Congress can get back to the serious business of legislating.
Carl Gustin is a Gloucester resident and columnist who writes on local, regional and national issues.