Jeff Flake Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Conscience of a Conservative?

Jeff Flake, the Republican junior US Senator from Arizona, recently issued a loud condemnation of US President Donald Trump's conduct in office – and then announced that he would not seek reelection next year. But while Flake was right to speak out against threats to American democracy, citizens – and especially senators – should never run away from them.

CAMBRIDGE – In a recent speech that received much attention in the United States and abroad, US Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, announced that he would not seek reelection. To agree with the reasoning Flake offered in defense of his decision, one must believe that a US senator’s highest duty is to speak truth to power, repudiate the president for “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior” that is “undermining our democracy,” and then quit.

Many mainstream media outlets apparently believe just that, lavishing praise on Flake’s impassioned jeremiad. According to a CNN political analyst, it was “the most important political speech of 2017 – and one of the most powerful political speeches in the modern era of the Senate.” Both The New York Times and The Washington Post featured the speech prominently in front-page stories.

But if we take Flake at his word that he is acting on principle, we must ask: what principle? If Flake is right that democracy itself is in peril unless we all “stand up and speak out,” then what good does it do to throw in the towel?

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