While the pipe bombs sent in recent days to vocal critics of the current U.S. administration failed to detonate, the act lodged itself firmly in the American psyche.
Combined with devastating gun violence at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, these violent acts from within have left the US even more divided, rattled and uneasy. And they pose the question of what leaders of a democracy must do.
True leaders – ones with courage and conviction – would have immediately denounced these attacks for what they were: acts of domestic terrorism. They would have called for unity and peace, denounced the divisive political rhetoric that fuels hate, and offered words that might have comforted the heartbroken and called a nation to find its better self.
As America enters the final stretch before the midterm elections, the Republican members of the House and Senate have also largely stayed quiet. They have put party and self-interest before country. They have prioritized re-election and power over institutional norms and civil discourse and abdicated practically every role the constitution envisioned – primarily that of checks and balances.
It is no coincidence that only retiring GOP House Representatives and Senators have spoken out against the vitriol spewing from the executive branch – and even then, only tepidly or fleetingly. Republican opponents who previously distanced themselves from the current President during the 2016 GOP primaries have now lined up behind him, fearing that falling afoul of him will jeopardize their political fortunes.
More alarmingly, the White House is now an open source of disinformation, content to offer the public “alternative facts” and conspiracy theories that once existed only in the far reaches of the internet and the fringes of society. It is not an exaggeration to say that the White House has given sustenance to the darkest elements of American political life.
And while many sitting Republican politicians are undoubtedly aware of the damage this is doing to their democracy, few if any have the courage to speak out against it. It’s unimaginable that out of all the congressmen and senators not one is willing to sacrifice his re-election chances by doing what’s morally right. Not one.
One could ask, where is the Cato in today’s republic?
Cato, the incorruptible Roman senator and Stoic, stood up to Julius Caesar and warned his fellow senators about the leader’s dishonorable motives. His reputation as a fierce defender of truth and justice was so great that centuries later, George Washington, John Adams, and Samuel Adams were each reportedly praised as being “the American Cato.”
Fast-forward to today, however, and an American Cato is nowhere to be found. Having felt the political tailwinds of vulgar speech, demographic agitation, and invented truths, Republicans running for office lack the courage and conviction to save American democracy from within. It remains to be seen how America’s political institutions will recover from this wholesale abdication of leadership.
[Frank Giustra is a Canadian businessman and global philanthropist whose foundation focuses on poverty alleviation and assisting people caught in natural disasters.]