GOP leaders should speak now, ease public’s fears

By John Krull

INDIANAPOLIS

The messages conveyed the same thing. Fear.

I was on the radio, talking about how people were feeling in these anxious first days of a new presidency.

A woman named Sarah called in. British by birth, she married an American man. They came here to help family members deal with a child who had cancer. They ended up staying for more than 30 years.

She has a green card. She worries, she said, that the “America First” feeling now is so strong that she won’t be able to stay in this place that has been home. She also fears that, as a non-citizen, she will be vulnerable to harassment at the hands of the government.

An email came in from a man named George. George wrote that, for the first time in his 39 years, he feared to speak his mind about something his government was doing. He said he was concerned he would be branded un-American just for saying what he thought or felt.

Other calls, other emails, other notes via social media flowed in during the hour I was on the air. Many said variations of the same thing.

We’re worried.

We’re frightened.

This is not the America we grew up in.

Supporters of President Donald Trump, I know, will say that these fears are overblown — an overreaction to his executive order regarding immigrants from seven largely Muslim nations and his rhetoric about building a wall along the Mexican border. The president’s defenders also say the implementation of the order affected only slightly more than 100 people, so it hardly constitutes a ban.

Perhaps, but the president himself has called it a ban. And the fact that he fired the acting attorney general of the United States using language that suggested she was a traitor because she refused to defend the order on constitutional grounds wasn’t reassuring. He could have dismissed her without calling her devotion to country into question.

Similarly, the Trump administration’s truculence regarding and, in some cases, defiance of court orders did nothing to increase confidence in the president as a defender of the nation’s laws.

But, then, many Hoosiers and Americans no longer look to their president for that sort of leadership.

If Trump has demonstrated nothing else during his improbable presidential campaign and his first days as the nation’s chief executive, it is that there is no fire to which he will not sprint with a can of gasoline in hand, eager to see the flames climb higher.

That’s why the leadership that will reassure frightened people must come from other sources.

And, because any such comforting messages from Democrats will be dismissed as either partisan or ineffectual, that reassurance must come from Republican leaders.

Fortunately, there are Hoosier leaders who are stepping up to meet this responsibility.

In the days following Trump’s executive order, Gov. Eric Holcomb made a point of saying that Indiana would remain a warm and welcoming place. U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, distanced herself from the order.

And Purdue University President and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said it was a mistake that contradicted American practice and traditions and urged Trump to cancel the order.

So far, though, Holcomb, Brooks and Daniels have formed but a small chorus among Indiana’s GOP leadership.

I know the political difficulties Republican leaders in this state face. The president ran ahead of every GOP statewide candidate but one in the November election. His voters are a crucial part of the Republican base.

But there’s a time to put country ahead of party.

A time to honor the constitution these elected office-holders took vows to defend.

I’m not talking about acts of defiance against a president of their own party. All they need to do is make statements that square with the oaths they took.

No one who hasn’t broken the law need fear this government.

No one’s rights will be violated.

And no one — not even the president of the United States — is above the law.

Trump’s defenders may say such statements should be self-evident. If so, making them costs Hoosier GOP leaders nothing — and will say a lot to frightened Hoosiers and Americans.

And if Indiana Republicans don’t feel comfortable making such statements?

Well, that will say a lot, too.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.