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A distinction without a difference

When I saw the breaking news that Elijah E. Cummings had died earlier that morning, at John Hopkins, I was stunned. He was only 68 and yet I had seen him of late making his unsteady way to his chair as head of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. And there were times when he arrived in a wheelchair, and I assumed it was something that would soon be resolved. I realize now that I took his powerful presence and forceful voice for granted. I knew without knowing that he was a decent man, a good man whose integrity and courage seemed self-evident.

His wife, Rockeymoore Cummings, in her grief, said of her husband, “He believed that our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem.”

I saw a clip of the congressman’s first speech delivered on the floor of the House in 1996 where he said with conviction, “My mission is one that comes out of a vision that was created long, long ago. It was a mission and a vision to empower people to make people realize that the power is within them, that they too can do the things they want to do.” He then went on to say, “There’s a poem that Parren Mitchel said many years ago that I say sometimes 20 times a day and it’s a very simple poem, but it’s one that I live by: ‘I only have a minute, sixty seconds in it. Forced upon me, I did not choose it. But I know that I must use it, give account if I abuse it, suffer if I lose it. Only a tiny little minute, but eternity in it.’”

In one of his final tweets to our nation, which I read as both a heartfelt appeal and a soft admonishment — or a foreshadowing perhaps, for he knew something we didn’t, that he was failing — he wrote: “I’m begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on. Because if you want to have a democracy intact for our children, and your children’s children, and generations yet unborn we’ve got to guard this moment this is our watch.”

The word decency again comes to mind as does the word integrity, and I realize that regarding a man like Elijah E. Cummings it is a distinction without a difference. And I believe that today, in this moment, that we must pay attention while understanding that what is taking place in our nation today represents in ways large and small a crossroads from which we must not turn away. And we should also acknowledge that as a people we yearn for those who represent us to step forward, without hesitation, and boldly put country before party.

However, in a moment of political cynicism, I think of those who surround this president, the enablers who arrived and then departed, and those who are in the White House today, and I wonder when they will step forward and refuse to defend the indefensible? When will they understand that their silence is a form of complicity and a deeply personal moral surrender?

An example that comes to mind, one of many: I regard Trump’s green-lighting the invasion by Turkey (it possesses the second largest army in NATO) of the Kurdish Syrian corridor, which is essentially their homeland, as a profound and depraved betrayal by the Trump administration. It represents an abandonment of diplomacy (sorting out the byzantine alliances) as well as those who fought by our side against ISIS in good faith. Trump, searching for any justification, lamely pointed out that the Kurds were not at our side on D-Day.

I regard Trump’s decision as a crime against humanity, one committed in our name. Again the words decency and integrity and their glaring absence come to mind.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.