Updated: Sunday, January 29, 2017, 9:30 PM
UPDATE: Apparently Sen. Toomey's stagecoach has finally reached the East Coast! Read what he finally had to say. It doesn't pass my moral test, but feel free -- as always -- to weigh in on what you think.
Remember sitting in history [class], thinking “If I was alive then, I would’ve … ” You’re alive now. Whatever you’re doing is what you would’ve done.
President Trump's jarring executive order on refugees and Middle East immigration — which sent shock waves around the globe the weekend and triggered massive protests, including one that practically shut down Philadelphia International Airport on a Sunday afternoon — was many things to many people.
To his die-hard supporters — maybe 36 percent of the public, maybe low 40s, depending on which poll you choose to believe — it's the mark of a president who stuck to his promise to keep "America First" and who doesn't just say the words "radical Islamic terrorism" but does something about it, no matter how many pages of the Constitution he needs to shred.
But to the millions among the increasingly not-silent majority who didn't vote for Trump last November and who never would, the president's order wasn't just illegal, illogical and immoral, but was so antithetical to America's core values that it quickly became our Tahrir Square moment, the time when decent citizens stood up and were counted.
Trump's immigration ban targets 135 million people, seven predominantly Muslim nations (although carving out an exemption for Christians from those countries) and initially penalized not just migrants who'd been heavily vetted but even green-card holders with every legal right to be here. Even the Trump administration acknowledged late Sunday that was a mistake. But the evidence this comprises an unconstitutional "religious test" — the so-called "Muslim ban" that even House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump's VP Mike Pence once blasted as un-American — is overwhelming.
How overwhelming? Ask Trump's long-time confidant and adviser Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, who told Fox News on Sunday that Trump had called him about the Muslim ban idea and said, "show me the right way to do it legally."
But there is no "right" when it comes to this obscenely bad idea. Just look at who Trump's Muslim ban is really keeping out of this country. The young Sudanese-Saudi doctor barred from returning to the prestigious Cleveland Clinic who said, "I'm only in this country to be a doctor, to work and to help people — that’s it, there’s no other reason.” The Iraqi interpreter who worked to keep U.S. soldiers alive during the Iraq War. The Syrian Christians who've followed our rules since 2003 to migrate to a home near Allentown, only to be sent back from Philadelphia's airport at the last possible instance.
"It's a dumb policy that also makes all of us less safe by imflaming passions against the United States, but that's not even the core issue. This is a test of our moral values, straight-up. The moment when we, as a nation, decide whether we'll continue to strive to be exceptional, to embrace the world's outcasts and the universal principles of human rights and decency — or whether Donald Trump's hateful new nationalism says goodbye to all that.
The challenge means stepping outside of our comfort zone — in what for decades has been the most comfortable nation on earth. David Slack got it exactly right, in his observation quoted above. You say you surely would have marched alongside Dr. King on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, that you would have spoken up against the Japanese internment, that you'd have risked your life to end slavery. This is your moment to, at the very minimum, get off the couch and say something, to speak some uncomfortable truths.
The everyday citizens are always ahead of the politicians on this — and this weekend was no exception. The sight of so many folks dropping everything on a frigid January Saturday and heading to an airport like JFK or PHL (places that are a pain in the butt to get to on a good day) was one of the more remarkable things I've witnessed as a citizen. At first, our political leaders seemed like deer in the headlights.
But not all politicians, and not for long. Locally, the brash progressive City Council member Helen Gym took to social media on Saturday afternoon to urge citizens to join her at the Philadelphia airport — and several hundred answered the call. She was soon joined by Mayor Kenney, Reps. Dwight Evans, and Bob Brady, and finally Sen. Bob Casey and Gov. Wolf, both wearing tuxedos and coming straight from an Academy of Music fund-raiser. Brady, Casey and the others didn't just criticize the policy but pushed — successfully, in the end — to free five migrants who were detained.
It was a proud moment for a city that calls itself the Cradle of Liberty, and also laced with a bit of irony. One of our most iconic images is the late Frank Rizzo showing up as police chief at a 1969 disturbance in a tux with a nightstick in his cummerbund, ready to bust heads if necessary. Today, our black-tie pols were pressing for human rights — a much better look.
It was also a highlight reel for Democrats who — for the most part — have seemed dazed and confused since Nov. 8. But what about Republicans — so many of whom had once insisted they were troubled by the things that come out of Trump's mouth, who once swore that ideas like a "Muslim ban" made them queasy? It took a while, but a few principled conservatives did finally speak out this weekend — led by a Pennsylvanian, GOP Rep. Charlie Dent, who actually called the president's move "ridiculous," noting "there are many, many nuances of immigration policy that can be life or death for many innocent, vulnerable people around the world." By Sunday night, about 20 Republicans had joined Dent in criticizing some or all of the new policy.
All of which raised a question: Where was Pennsylvania's Republican senator, Pat Toomey, during the great moral test of his tenure in Washington?
After all, Toomey was the congressman for Dent's district before his 2010 elevation to the Senate. In 2015, when Trump made his original "Muslim ban" proposal, Toomey did indeed criticize it, saying "I do not believe that we ought to be adopting a religious test for admission to the United States." And he promised Pennsylvania voters, in winning re-election last year, that he would not be a rubber stamp for Trump — so this certainly seemed like the moment to cash in on that vow.
But making a bold stand isn't exactly Toomey's M.O. What I'm really trying to say, actually, is that Pat Toomey is a coward. He held his finger up to the winds of Trump for as long as he possibly could, announcing only at 6:45 p.m. on Election Night that he'd pulled the lever for the short-fingered-vulgarian-in-chief. Since then, his staff has been known to not answer phones or even lock the doors on constituents trying to pin him down on Trump's more outlandish appointments and policies. Indeed, it turns out that Toomey hasn't had a town hall meeting since 2013; in Philadelphia, where his regressive policies hit hardest, he's never held one.
He must be a busy guy, right? Indeed, when all hell broke loose on Saturday, curious constituents and journalists couldn't even find him ... at first. It slowly emerged that — at the very moment that Pennsylvania's senior senator Casey had dropped everything to head to Philadelphia's airport to press for the detainees' freedom — Toomey was 3,000 long miles away.
He was in the sunny Coachella Valley outside Palm Springs, Calif., at a mountain-ringed luxury resort called the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa. There, he was speaking to a gathering of wealthy campaign donors and industrialists, led by the infamous Koch brothers, the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch — who spent a whopping $3 million-plus to ensure Toomey's narrow re-election last fall.
These are the people Pat Toomey really works for.
On Saturday night, while Casey was at the airport telling immigrants that "you are welcome here" and criticizing the president for “politically motivated discriminatory actions,” Toomey was telling the Koch brothers and their rich friends: "It was this network that played an absolutely essential role."
Sunday, Toomey staffers told reporters (although not me, as they continue to refuse to acknowledge my emails ... heh) that the senator wouldn't be commenting that day because he was "traveling." Maybe the Pony Express with news of Trump's order hadn't reached Palm Springs — or the airfare out there was so high that Toomey had to hock his cell phone?
Or he's a coward — a coward who just flunked the biggest moral test of his political career.
Or maybe he just earned an "incomplete." Toomey's people insist he'll have something to say on Monday. Maybe it will be the first day of the rest of his new moral life in the politics, a day to make good on his promise to be an independent thinker.
Because you're alive now, Senator Toomey. So what are you doing?