It is difficult these days to mark a low ebb in politics. We stand on the shore and watch as the tide goes out and out and out, and then instead of turning around and coming back in, it goes out farther.
For many years the benchmark of Congressional iniquity was the McCarthy hearings of the early 1950s. They centered on the attempts by Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin, to root out the Communists wherever they were hiding...even if there weren't any. McCarthy used insult and humiliation to attack intelligence and creativity, using a shared anti-intellectualism to ruin the lives and careers of writers, actors, journalists, and even other politicians.
However, his dismal crusade ended when he took on the U.S. Army, which the senator considered lax in security. The army hired Joseph Welch to defend it. One day, feeling typically invincible, McCarthy accused one of Welch's young assistants of being a Communist. It was then that Welch uttered the words that ended McCarthy's career. "Until this moment, Senator," Welch said, "I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness." When McCarthy tried to continue, an angry Welch stopped him cold. "Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?"
Welch's line that day has reverberated through history—he was the right man with the right words at the right time. And yet today, he and his words would be ridiculed.
Would it be worth asking Marjorie Taylor Greene if she has a sense of decency when she curries favor with the pitiable and pitiful QAnon crowd and refers to them as her people?
Would it be worth asking Jim Jordan if he had a sense of decency when he browbeat Anthony Fauci at a Congressional hearing because poor Jim hadn't gotten his pre-Covid rights returned? At that time, there had already been over a half million Covid deaths in the United States. Another half million were yet to come.
Would it be worth asking the election deniers in Lycoming, Pennsylvania, if they had a sense of decency when, on the 797th day after the defeat of former President Donald Trump, they demanded a recount...and got it? (Three days and an estimated 560 work hours later, the results were nearly identical. Trump had already won the county with 70% of the vote.)
Would it be worth asking George Santos...anything?
But yesterday, the stupidity and ignorance—and just plain malcontentedness—took an especially ugly turn when police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, arrested one Solomon Peña on a host of serious charges. Peña, a convicted felon who unsuccessfully ran for a House seat in New Mexico as a Republican last November, had lost with less than a quarter of the votes. Despite this embarrassing outcome, he claimed election fraud and hired some thugs with guns to shoot up the homes of local Democrats.
Sense of decency? We're well past that. Sanctity of human life? Maybe some other time, for it appears that the hired gunmen, each paid $500 for their time, generally aimed their shots high and, as a result, there were no injuries. On one of the sorties, however, Peña accompanied them and urged one of them to shoot lower.
Peña has yet to concede his humiliating loss last November, claiming then to stand with Donald Trump and consider his options. Those options are less "optional" today in his new jumpsuit.
Some may claim that my mentioning Donald Trump implies he is somehow responsible. You're right. He is. Trump has consistently advocated violence against the opposition, whether it be the hoodlums at his rallies, the January 6 terrorists, or anything in between.
Most Republicans have rightly distanced themselves from Peña's actions. But they let a predator take over the party in 2016, and encouraged him to remain four years later. They have tacitly encouraged criminals like Peña and David DePape, who assaulted the husband of Nancy Pelosi last year. Trump is responsible, and they are responsible for Trump.
The loss of decency pervades so much of our modern lives that locking up a Solomon Peña can hardly turn the tide. And asking him if at long last he has no sense of decency would be a fool's errand in the age of Trump. It would be like asking George Santos, or Trump himself.
The tide keeps receding: those sandbars may not be covered for a long time.