George H.W. Bush didn’t resign as a member of the National Rifle Association in 1995 over its rigid position opposing virtually any gun legislation. Rather, in a memorable letter, he told the group that he resigned because the group refused to apologize for the scurrilous remarks of Wayne LaPierre, who still heads the organization. Instead, the NRA, Bush said, “defended his attack on federal agents as ‘jack-booted thugs.’” Bush wrote: “To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people as ‘wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms’ wanting to ‘attack law abiding citizens’ is a vicious slander on good people.”
Bush defended by name the honor of several honorable men, some of whom were killed doing their job. Bush then explained that the NRA’s “broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us.”
LaPierre has still been at it, as when he declared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that Democrats were nothing less than socialists who want to rob Americans of all their freedoms. He continued: “Our intelligence community shrouds everything in secrecy, driving into darkness every dirty memo and every dirty institutional secret and memory in the name of national security. But when the leaks come, as so often occurs, in the light of day, it reveals nothing about the security of our country and it reveals everything about the corruption of those in power.” He raged on that “even the FBI is not free of its own corruption. And its own unethical agents. Look, and I know you probably all share this sentiment and I get people telling me from coast to coast, and they shake their heads when they say it to me. I can understand a few bad apples in their organization as large as the FBI, but what is hard to understand is why no one at the FBI stood up and called B.S. on its rogue leadership.” He never changes, and why anyone who can recognize Bush as an honorable and decent man would not be equally offended by the Wayne LaPierre of 2018 as Bush was of the Wayne LaPierre of 1995 escapes me. Bush was right: The only response to those who persistently and falsely denigrate those who protect us is to disassociate from such slanderers.
And it’s not just the NRA, of course, that is in the business of smearing honorable public servants. The GOP – from the president to his lawyer to members of Congress to Trump’s parrots at Fox News – routinely insult, smear and simply lie about federal law enforcement (including the FBI and special counsel). The Republicans of 2018 refer to men and women who embody the phrase “law and order” as “stormtroopers,” “Stalinists,” “crooked,” “an embarrassment to our country” and “tainted.” Trump calls special counsel Robert Mueller, a decorated Marine, former FBI director and now special counsel, “disgraced and discredited,” and his team of prosecutors “angry Democratic thugs.” The baseless insults hurled by GOP House members at the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the FBI, Mueller and the federal prosecutors who work with Mueller should make one’s skin crawl.
This talk, as Bush 41 aptly said in 1995, should offend our own sense of decency and honor and our concept of service to country. Such language “indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us.”
I understand the inclination of some Republicans to try to reform and rescue the GOP from the clutches of Trumpists. But, it seems to me at least, this is nearly as fruitless as expecting LaPierre to talk sensibly and civilly. After one has tried for a decent interval to admonish and reform the GOP, isn’t the only course, if one wishes to preserve one’s own sense of decency and honor, to resign from and disassociate oneself from the GOP?