Based on her criticism of Trump, Sen. Collins has a lot more denouncing to do

Based on her criticism of Trump, Sen. Collins has a lot more denouncing to do

“My conclusion about Mr. Trump’s unsuitability for office is based on his disregard for the precept of treating others with respect, an idea that should transcend politics.” –Senator Susan Collins

Sen. Collins’ declaration that she will not vote for Donald Trump in November’s presidential election was a helpful gesture, one that many Mainers were grateful for, especially coming just a few days after Trump’s attacks on our Somali friends and neighbors, fear-mongering the crowd in Merrill Auditorium as he desperately tried to find even one more electoral vote in his campaign for the White House.

Senator Collins’ op-ed is also noteworthy because it represents a significant, and no doubt difficult, decision on her part. As I frequently note in this space, our political parties are composed of many interest groups, and we forget too often, in our obsession with the personalities of a small handful of top-of-the-ticket candidates, that elections are a struggle by those interest groups to have influence over the policy agenda of elected officials. The groups that make up the Democratic and Republican parties want very different things, and have intense differences of opinions regarding the Supreme Court, voting rights, bodily autonomy, the environment, health care, and the first, second, fourth, eighth, and fourteenth amendments, just to name a few policy arenas. Elections are about more than the presidency, and for a leading Republican to refuse to support her party’s standard-bearer, which could drag down voting participation and effect many other races, is a huge deal.

So the senator’s op-ed is important and worthy of our respect. But it also points to some issues surrounding the election and the electorate that go far beyond Donald Trump.

Look at some of the changes in our own state politics. Not that long ago, in March of 2015, Senator Mike Willette of Presque Isle had to resign his chairmanship of the State and Local Government Committee, in the face of bipartisan condemnation, for the disturbing “jokes” regarding President Obama and ISIS that he posted on Facebook. Last October, similarly xenophobic and racist screeds on social media by Representative John Picchioti, of Fairfield, Mercer, and Smithfield, were met by silence in his party, and a lame “apology” — in which he attacked the press for breaking the story — was enough to make the episode blow over. In December, when Representative Jeff Pierce of Dresden posted a call to “Deport all Muslims,” even a half-assed apology was apparently seen as unnecessary, and the Maine GOP didn’t say a word.

There’s a clear and very public trend toward greater acceptance of bigotry by Maine Republicans and yet Senator Collins’ concern with the “precept of treating other people with respect” is nowhere in evidence.

The “precept of treating other people with respect” was certainly ignored by Jim Booth, the chairman of the York County Republicans, when he issued a plea for a legislative candidate to challenge Representative Justin Chenette, of Saco, who is running for a seat in the state Senate. Representative Chenette is gay, and Booth assured potential challengers that “there is a lot of HATE” for the candidate he referred to in his letter as “Little Justine.” This time the GOP wasn’t entirely silent — Representative Don Marean, who represents Hollis and part of Saco, spoke up in support of Chenette and Booth eventually apologized, but he faced no consequences for his offensive hate mongering.

The executive committee of the York County Republicans “accepted Booth’s apology,” and decided not to demand his resignation. As Chenette himself pointed out, the committee’s decision told Mainers that Booth’s behavior was acceptable. “The signal,” Chenette said, “is that these sort of tactics are OK and that this type of hate-filled rhetoric will continue.”

And then, of course, there is our governor, the man who boasted that “I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump was popular.” Paul LePage’s entire governing style is premised on refusing to treat other people with respect. From his blackmailing of a school for at-risk children to his attack on Maine’s children of mixed-race parentage, from his pattern of casual, persistent deception to his decision that people who have overdosed don’t deserve to be saved, the governor has exhibited a commitment to, as Senator Collins said of Trump, “make an already perilous world even more so.”

What are his latest budgetary ideas — to slash thousands of jobs in a state government that is already understaffed, to lower the state’s top income bracket (from 7.19% to 5.75%) and fund the gap by increasing the inherently regressive sales tax — but a pledge to make life harder for the majority of Mainers? When he threatens government services and financial assistance in a state whose average household income in 2014 (that latest year with available data on census.gov) is $48,804, the governor is threatening the “worth and dignity of the individual,” to say nothing of the commitment to make life better for our children than it is for us, that Senator Collins speaks of in her letter on Trump.

Fourteen percent of Mainers live in poverty; by making life harder for them in order to provide more tax relief for the wealthiest families in our state, the governor is surely showing himself to be the man “who will slash and burn and trample anything and anyone he perceives as being in his way or an easy scapegoat,” as Senator Collins said of Trump.

I respect Senator Collins for her decision to state publicly that she cannot support Donald Trump. But if the precept of respect for other people is the basis for her decision, she needs to pay more attention to what has happened to her party at home while she’s been in Washington.

Photo: Gov.Paul LePage, Rep, Jeffrey Pierce and Sen. Susan Collins, via Pierce campaign website.

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Ron Schmidt
Ron Schmidt 45 posts

Dr. Ronald Schmidt is an Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of History and Political Science at the University of Southern Maine.

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