U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, speaks during an interview with the Juneau Empire at the Alaska State Capitol in February 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, speaks during an interview with the Juneau Empire at the Alaska State Capitol in February 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Sullivan’s silence says a lot

  • Thursday, April 23, 2020 7:30am
  • Opinion

When I was a kid, a couple of older boys bullied me after swim lessons. They snapped me with towels and put my underwear on my head. Funny to them. Not so much for me. I explained the scene to my mother in the waiting room. Mom stormed into the locker room and let those boys have it. I can I still recall her defiant and fierce tone booming down the hallway. I felt proud. I learned something about what it meant to be a parent.

When then-candidate Donald Trump boasted about grabbing women by the p—-y, Sen. Dan Sullivan joined a chorus of politicians condemning such rhetoric. He went on camera and spoke about the need to respect women. I felt proud. I learned something about what it meant to be a national leader.

Sullivan has successfully worked with the Trump administration to advance issues he feels benefit Alaskans. That’s good. That’s his job. But it’s also his job to stand up for decency and democracy.

Sullivan proclaims support of Alaska Natives yet remained silent when the president referred to violent white supremacists as “good people.” Sullivan claims to care about the abuse of women yet stood and applauded as the Medal of Freedom was given to a misogynistic radio announcer. Sullivan claims to care about eroding Alaska villages yet remains silent as the president repeatedly refers to climate change as a hoax. Sullivan says he cares about corruption in government yet said nothing when Trump refused to divest his business interests. Sullivan recognizes freedom of speech as a pillar of democracy yet says nothing as the president slams any reporting he doesn’t like as fake news. Sullivan’s ancestors are immigrants yet he says nothing as this country separates children from their parents on the southern bounder.

Within the last week, the president blocked emergency funding to the United States Postal Service, a vital link to Alaskan communities. He then delayed relief payments in order to add his name to the check. He then claimed that, as president, he has “complete authority” in blatant contradiction to the constitution.

Sullivan’s response: Silence. Silence. Silence.

My mother, now 93, has lived through the Great Depression, the second World War, and dozens of smaller ones. She witnessed fire hoses, clubs and dogs turned against those demanding the same basic rights as their white neighbors. She’s watched the river of corporate cash flood the halls of congress. And she listened as Martin Luther King Jr warned that “history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Like all of us, Mom is hunkered down. Yet she still defends what she loves. She watches the evening news and shakes her head in disbelief as the president rants, unchecked. Since Trump moved into the Oval Office, Sullivan has not uttered a critical word of the President. “That’s not leadership,” says my mom. “That’s following. It’s putting party in front of people. It’s placing politics in front of principles. Decency is dying. And now so are Americans.”

It’s time for Sullivan to get out of the way and make room for someone with the courage to speak for what is right and true. Alaskans deserve a leader that makes us all feel proud.

• Hank Lentfer is a life-long Alaskan and writer living in Gustavus. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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