"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Even if Western New York’s Republican congressmen had never heard 18th century statesman Edmund Burke’s quote, you’d think their own moral compasses would have spurred Chris Collins and Tom Reed into action when more courageous colleagues were denouncing President Trump.
Instead, not only did they do nothing – they couldn’t even bring themselves to say anything.
After refusing Buffalo News interview requests, they could manage only written, non-responsive answers to the fundamental question of the moment: Where did they stand on Trump’s comments?
Western New York deserves better than profiles in waffling. But that’s what we’ve got.
While business leaders were abandoning Trump’s advisory councils, Reed and Collins were abandoning any pretense of moral leadership. After some of this year’s Kennedy Center honorees were taking a stand, Collins and Reed were taking a pass. And as charities were cancelling fundraisers at Trump properties, they were giving the president the kind of silent support Burke warned about.
In a brief Bloomberg Television appearance before going totally mute, Reed, in fact, even seemed to side with Trump in seeing "extremism on all sides," as if there’s some equivalence between Black Lives Matter, which wants police to recognize that fact, and the racists marching to defend a general who waged treasonous war for the right to enslave blacks.
As if that wasn’t enough, Reed – astonishingly -- quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to justify the president’s contention that there were "good people" among the Klansmen and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.
But none of this should be surprising. This, after all, is the president who peddled the birtherism lie, cited a federal judge’s Mexican heritage to say he couldn’t rule fairly, and shamelessly attacked the Muslim father of soldier who gave his life for this country when the man held up the U.S. Constitution to decry the president’s "Muslim ban."
Why would Collins and Reed get a moral spine now, even after Trump doubled down in Phoenix on Tuesday?
Of course, they could ask Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Tim Scott of South Carolina or 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, all Republicans with the guts to call out the president by name.
But then again, that’s a minority.
Reed and Collins have the comfort of being in a very large majority of Republicans nationwide who kept their heads down and waited for this, too, to pass. In fact, GOP TV – aka Fox News Channel – couldn’t even find one to come on camera and talk about the issue.
OK, fine. Don’t talk about Trump’s reducing the presidency to an office of transactions instead of one of moral authority. But also don’t talk about wanting the party to attract more blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews and others who never would have been on the wrong side in Charlottesville.
In the context of attacks on voting rights and anti-immigrant hysteria, Trump’s comments giving comfort to David Duke and the rest of the resurgent racists define the party. Until they tell us otherwise, this is who the GOP is.
And when it comes to telling us otherwise, Collins and Reed – like the vast majority of their colleagues --aren’t talking.