“You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? – Joseph Welch
No, these words were not spoken yesterday by Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as part of the national outrage over Donald Trump’s hateful and inappropriate comments at the Boy Scout Jamboree. And yes, they should have been uttered by the Republican leadership. Nevertheless, these words have been proven to be timeless.
Attorney Joseph Welch’s incredible rebuke of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954, during the Army-McCarthy hearings, is appropriate to recall as the nation continues to be appalled at the spectacle of the President of the United States demeaning his predecessor, Barack Obama, along with Hillary Clinton, in front of the vast Boy Scout assembly.
Speaking before the audience of 27,000 adolescents,
President Donald Trump on Monday night gave a highly politicized speech to the annual Boy Scout Jamboree in which he bragged about his election victory, lashed out at the news media, and got thousands of Boy Scouts to boo former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In his 38-minute address, Trump also made remarks about a drunken millionaire while addressing teens who were otherwise assembled to hear about personal values and character traits.
“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent,” according to the Scout Law. Which of these qualities might be possessed by Trump, in light of all that we have learned about him, other than clean, since he is known to be a germaphobe? Operators are standing by (snicker) to record the results.
No doubt we will hear more about Trump’s disastrous address to the Boy Scouts and the wrong signals it will continue to send to young people who belong to an organization that is values-centered, yet witnessed the chief executive of this country belittle others, as his behavior continually demonstrates. These are the same young people who, as primary and middle grade students, sat in classrooms that featured pictures of all of the presidents and learned history and citizenship through stories taught to them by their teachers.
What kind of lasting memories will these kids have of seeing their first president in the flesh?
One incredible coincidence about Boston lawyer Joseph Welch’s scolding words to McCarthy was a reference he made to McCarthy’s assistant, Roy Cohn, who was counsel to the committee. The video link provides an audio reference to Cohn just before that memorable phrase, have you no sense of decency, sir?
Donald Trump has often referred to Roy Cohn as a mentor. At his death in 1986, just weeks after being disbarred for ethics violations, the slash-and-burn Cohn was known as a feared courtroom adversary and a legend in New York legal circles. Last year, The New York Times offered this sketch of Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man:
Mr. Cohn’s influence on Mr. Trump is unmistakable. Mr. Trump’s wrecking ball of a presidential bid — the gleeful smearing of his opponents, the embracing of bluster as brand — has been a Roy Cohn number on a grand scale. Mr. Trump’s response to the Orlando massacre, with his ominous warnings of a terrorist attack that could wipe out the country and his conspiratorial suggestions of a Muslim fifth column in the United States, seemed to have been ripped straight out of the Cohn playbook.
The Trump playbook we see today as learned from Cohn is very simple: Never be on defense, never apologize, never admit an error. Instead, attack, demean, and ridicule.
As we think about the president egging on teenagers at a Boy Scout gathering to boo a former president, and in the process erase some citizenship lessons learned in school and in Scouting, be reminded of the suggestion this writer offered in an earlier column:
I propose that the American people consider a mechanism to vent their frustration with the appalling lack of leadership in this nation. If impeachment has zero chance of success, and if the 25th Amendment route has similar odds, we should simply gather across the country on a specified date soon in our communities, and just boo …
Donald Trump, have you no sense of decency? Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, do you have chocolate eclairs for backbones, as a great Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt, once put it? Where is the outrage over the conduct of Donald Trump, never a Boy Scout but always a serial abuser of civility and truthfulness?
Fellow citizens, remember that turnabout is fair play. Recall that Trump encouraged Boy Scouts to boo a former president. Remember that our elected leaders, through their inaction and reluctance to censure, only encourage Trump’s continuing bad behavior.
We must give voice to our growing outrage.
That voice, in answer to Trump, is booing. Indeed, turnabout is fair play.
Please consider an invitation to express your outrage on Constitution Day, September 17, by coming together in small groups and demonstrating your First Amendment right … to BOO!
There is no more appropriate day to raise our voices than on the day when we celebrate our Constitution. Let us all say together, with thanks to Joseph Welch: have you no sense of decency, sir? BOO!
Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office. He writes about education issues as well as politics and constitutional reform.