On Tuesday, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona became the latest politician to question the health of American democracy in the age of Trump. In a speech announcing he would not seek reelection in 2018, Flake delivered a searing rebuke of Trump and blasted members of his own party for failing to speak out against the president.
The speech seems likely to become part of Flake’s political legacy. You can read the full transcript here, but here are six of the most memorable lines:
Flake decries the “indecency of our discourse and the coarseness of our leadership”
From the beginning of his speech, the Arizona senator did not mince his words and started by calling America’s leadership “coarse” and national discourse “indecent” under the Trump presidency:
I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the coarseness of our leadership. Regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our, I mean all of our complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.
He warns against a “new normal”
Flake warned against this kind of behavior becoming common in Washington politics, and described it as unhelpful to American voters:
The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, and the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve. None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal.
He jabs directly at President Trump’s behavior
Several times throughout his speech, Flake addressed Trump directly. And throughout, he decried Trump’s behavior and said it has a chilling effect on a healthy democracy:
Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.
Flake makes an appeal to his fellow Republicans
In addition to his indictment of the president, Flake also castigated his Republican colleagues for not doing more to speak up against Trump, and said that past excuses for Trump’s behavior from lawmakers can no longer be believed:
When the next generation asks us, why didn't you do something? Why didn't you speak up? What are we going to say? Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal.
With respect and humility, I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, civility and stability right behind it.
We know better than that. By now, we all know better than that.
He says Trump’s tweets are a threat to the “stability of the entire world”
As fellow Republican Sen. Bob Corker has done, Flake talked about a very real concern among Republicans and Democrats alike that Trump is too unstable to lead, and that the president’s social media outbursts could have extreme real-world consequences. Earlier this month, Corker said that Trump’s threats could “start World War III,” and Flake echoed that sentiment in his speech on Tuesday:
If I have been critical, it is because I believe it is my obligation to do so, and as a matter and duty of conscience, the notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters, the notion that we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.
He questions his place in the current Republican Party
Flake was not shy about criticizing the members of his own party for, as he put it, abandoning their core principles and forgetting about the people they were elected to serve. He called on his fellow Republicans to return to the party’s core values rather than support Trump’s brand of politics:
It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative, who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party, the party that has so long defined itself by its belief in those things. It's also clear to me for the moment that we have given in or given up on the core principles in favor of a more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment.
To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess that we've created are justified, but anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.