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Republican Senator Blasts Trump: 'We May Have Hit Bottom'

Civil rights activist U.S. Rep. John Lewis is set to address Harvard University graduates, capping off several days of activities that also featured speeches from Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich (KAY’-sihk) and Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes questions during a TV news interview about the pending vote to confirm Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 26, 2018.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Flake, who is not seeking reelection, torched U.S. President Donald Trump in his remarks. 

“Our presidency has been debased by a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division and only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works,” Flake said Wednesday. 

“You might reasonably ask, where is the good news in that? Well, simply put: We may have hit bottom,” he continued. “Oh, and that’s also the bad news. In a rare convergence, the good news and bad news are the same — our leadership is not good, but it probably can’t get much worse.” 

The 78-year-old Lewis is a Georgia Democrat known for leading the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. 

The Ivy League school is hosting its 367th commencement ceremony on Thursday with a keynote speech from Lewis. 

Previous speakers include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and director Steven Spielberg.
A coalition of Harvard students says it will be passing out Time’s Up stickers at graduation to show solidarity against sexual misconduct. 

The group has pushed Harvard to change how it handles those cases. 

Read Senator Flake's full speech here:
Dean Manning, graduates, class marshalls, families and faculty: 

It is such an honor to stand before you today, on this very special day of celebration and accomplishment for you and your families, in this annual season of advice-giving. That is why I am here. I am very much hoping you can give me some advice. 

I’ll soon be in the job market myself. 

I feel truly privileged by your invitation. Congratulations to the Harvard Law Class of 2018! To be here in this place that has produced so many of our nation’s leaders and our finest legal minds is deeply humbling. 

An institution that gave the world Oliver Wendell Holmes, a majority of the current Supreme Court, and not only Barack but Michelle Obama, too — well, it all has me wondering if I didn’t somehow receive this invitation by mistake. 

I’ll always remember the decadent celebration after graduation at my beloved alma mater, BYU. Bowl after bowl of rocky road, double fudge chunk and butter pecan. Hey, when you’re Mormon, ice cream is all you’ve got. 

I am not only humbled by this place, I am also humbled by this moment in the life of our country. You see, you are set to inherit the world in just the nick of time. 

I am also especially humbled given the fact that I come to you today from the political class. In utter seriousness, it is I who could benefit from listening to you today rather than speaking to you, as I am not so sure that there is much distilled wisdom to be imparted from Washington these days, given what has lately become the tawdriness of my profession. 

I am here today as representative of a co-equal branch of our federal government which is failing its constitutional obligations to counteract the power of the president, and in so doing is dishonoring itself at a critical moment in the life of our nation. 

And so, with humility, let me suggest that perhaps it is best to consider what I have to say today as something of a cautionary tale -
-about the rule of law and its fragility; 

-about our democratic norms and how hard-won and vulnerable they are; 

-about the independence of our system of justice, and how critically important it is to safeguard it from malign actors who would casually destroy that independence for their own purposes and without a thought to the consequences; 

-about the crucial predicate for all of these cherished American values: Truth. Empirical, objective truth;
-and lastly, about the necessity to defend these values and these institutions that you will soon inherit, even if that means sometimes standing alone, even if it means risking something important to you, maybe even your career. Because there are times when circumstances may call on you to risk your career in favor of your principles. 

But you and your country will be better for it. You can go elsewhere for a job, but you cannot go elsewhere for a soul. 

Not to be unpleasant, but I do bring news from our nation’s capital. First, the good news: Your national leadership is not good. At all. Our presidency has been debased by a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division and only a passing familiarity with how the constitution works. 

But this is an experience we could and should have avoided. Getting to this state of distress did not occur naturally. Rather, this was thoroughly man-made. This disease of our polity is far too serious to not be recognized for what it is, the damage it threatens to do to our vital organs is far too great for us to carry on as if all is well. All is not well. We have a sickness of the spirit. To complete the medical metaphor, you might say that we are now in critical condition.

How did we arrive at a moment of such peril, wherein a president of the United States publicly threatens— on Fox & Friends, historians will note — to interfere in the administration of justice, and seems to think that the office confers on him the ability to decide who and what gets investigated, and who and what does not? And just this week, the President — offering an outlandish rationale, ordered an investigation into the investigation of the Russian attack on our electoral process — not to defend the country against further attacks, mind you, but to defend himself. Obviously, ordering investigations is not a legitimate use of presidential power. 

I pick this egregious example of recent presidential conduct not because it is rare in terms of this president’s body of work, but because it so perfectly represents what we have tragically grown accustomed to in the past year and a half. Who would have thought that we would ever see encouragement coming from the White House for chants at rallies calling for the jailing of a defeated political opponent. When you don’t even know that there are limits on presidential power, then you might not even care when you are abusing that power. 

How did this happen to us? And what might we learn from it? How did we get swept up in this global resurgence of the authoritarian impulse, which now has democracies teetering on the brink, strongmen placing themselves above the law, and in our own country a leader who reveres some of the most loathsome enemies of democracy in our time? 

Have we really grown tired of democracy? Are we watching its passing, cheered on by the America First crowd even as we cast aside global institutions that have fostered freedom, prosperity and peace for more than a half-century? 

For just a moment, let us marvel at the miracle that is the rule of law. We have seldom been moved to pause for such an appreciation, as we have been too busy taking it for granted and assuming its inviolability — like gravity. But unlike Newton’s Laws, the rule of law was neither innate nor inevitable. What goes up must come down is a piece of cake compared to curbing the impulses of man and asking free people to abide rules and norms that form a country, and foster civilization. 

It took centuries of war and sacrifice and social upheaval and more war and great civil rights struggles to establish the foundational notion that no one is either above the law or unworthy of the protections afforded by a robust legal system, a system that took us from feudal servility to a constitutional model that is the envy of the world. And will continue to be, with your help. 

We trace the beginnings of this radical egalitarianism — of the awesome and leveling effect of the law – to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which saw the death of the divine right of kings, as even the monarch from that point forward would be subject to the law — and the parliament even threw in a bill of rights for good measure.
But we are now testing the durability of this idea that William III first had the good sense to agree to, an idea which was then forged and tempered over the ensuing centuries. And we are seeing its vulnerabilities. In other parts of the world where democracy’s roots are not so deep, we are seeing it being torn down with sickening ease and shocking speed. And worse, we are seeing the rise of simulated democracies, Potemkin democracies, democracies in appearance and affect only. 

Rule of thumb: If the only acceptable outcome in a matter of law or justice is a result that is satisfactory to the leader, then you might live in a democracy that is in trouble. If the leader attacks the legitimacy of any institution that does not pay him obeisance — say, the independent judiciary, or the free press — then you might live in a democracy that is in trouble. Further to that point: when a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him “fake news,” it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.
It will be the work of your generation to make sure that this degradation of democracy does not continue — to see to it that our current flirtation with lawlessness and authoritarianism does not become a heritable trait to be passed down from this presidency. 

The rule of law is an elemental value, a value that preceded and gave rise to our Constitution. It is not an ideology subject to the pendulum swings of politics, or something to be given a thumbs-up or thumbs-down in a call-in to your favorite morning show. It is the basis of our system of self-governance. America without the rule of law is no longer America. 

I am a conservative Republican, a throwback from the days when those words actually meant something, before the collapse of our politics into the rank tribalism we currently endure. My sounding this alarm against a government that was elected under the Republican banner and that calls itself conservative makes me no less Republican or conservative. And opposing this president and much of what he stands for is not an act of apostasy  it is, rather, an act of fidelity. 

Because we forget this fact far too often, and it bears repeating a thousand times, especially in times such as these: Values transcend politics. 


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