L.I. GOP must condemn Trump’s dangerous remarks


Elected officials, including many in Nassau County, regularly say they’re committed to bipartisanship — to “reaching across the aisle.” That is, of course, a worthy sentiment, especially in these hyperpolarized times.

Compromise does indeed lie at the core of politics in a democracy. Conservatives and liberals, when acting in good faith and with a shared set of values, can reach agreements that benefit both sets of constituents.

But in order for politics to function in this way, politicians of differing views need to show respect for one another, and for the standards of civil discourse. Comity isn’t possible when extremism prevails. Threats of violence and attacks on people’s religious beliefs must be repudiated, regardless of where they originate on the ideological spectrum.

Calls for cooperation thus sound hypocritical when incendiary rhetoric is allowed to take the place of reasoned debate. Worse, politicians who lack the courage to condemn dangerous rantings by their own side’s leaders can be judged complicit when unhinged speech results in criminal acts.

That’s why Long Island Republicans have a moral, as well as political, obligation to publicly condemn inflammatory remarks made by their party’s leader, Donald Trump.

We have already seen what happens when the bounds of civic decorum are breached. Trump’s unfounded insistence that the 2020 election was stolen led thousands of his followers to trash the U.S. Capitol, the citadel of American democracy.

Something similar — or even more calamitous — may well occur this year. Trump recently warned, “If I don’t get elected, it’s gonna be a bloodbath.” MAGA militants are likely to take that message literally. They’ll wink and nod at the former president’s subsequent claim that he was referring only to the consequences of not curbing imports of Chinese automobiles.

Trump is also stoking racist hatred. Some of his most rabid followers may feel emboldened to physically attack migrants, whom their idol has referred to as “animals.”

Trump has said, too, that if he loses the 2024 election, that will be proof that it was rigged. In other words, the only acceptable result will be victory for Trump. His defeat would not be acknowledged, or tolerated.

This is not how democracy works. Trump’s repeatedly demonstrated disdain for the rule of law should be denounced as an unpatriotic affront to the memory of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lost their lives in defense of the nation’s founding principles.

Nassau County Republican officeholders have a responsibility to treat their impressive recent electoral victories not as an opportunity to gloat or ridicule their opponents, as Trump did throughout his term in the White House, but rather to urge their supporters to respect democratic processes, and their opponents. Similarly, local Jewish leaders — Conservative, Reform and Orthodox -- should assure their congregants that it’s possible to vote for Joe Biden and still be good Jews and defenders of Israel.

Trump, of course, does not agree.

He declared on March 18 that “any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion.” Asked the following day about that comment, Trump doubled down: “Democrats have been very, very opposed to Jewish people,” he said, absurdly.

Never one to engage in temperate criticism, Trump has lately entered rhetorical realms far beyond the limits of responsible speech. He is certainly not a conservative of the Reagan variety, nor is he in sync with prominent local Republicans such as former Congressman Peter King, who has displayed the courage, in the pages of the Herald, to criticize Trump’s dangerous divisiveness.

The United States needs a credible conservative party that focuses on fundamental issues such as the role and the size of government. Liberal positions should be challenged in informed, reasoned exchanges based on facts, not fabrications. But this is not the case for the party led by Trump.

What will Congressman Anthony D’Esposito, County Executive Bruce Blakeman and Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald Clavin do? Will they follow the lead of former Vice President Mike Pence, who has termed Trump unsuited to hold the nation’s highest office? Or will they stand by silently and allow political exigency to take precedence over government of, by and for the people?

History will judge their actions — or inactions.

Kevin J. Kelley was a congressional staff member in the 1980s, and is a retired journalist and journalism professor who worked for newspapers in New York, Vermont and Kenya and taught at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. He lives in Atlantic Beach.