Nine years ago, outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan gave the commencement speech at his alma mater.

“I remember my own transformative experience here,” he said. “It is here at Miami where I was able to find myself; I found a sense of direction and a sense of identity.”

Given Ryan’s obsequious behavior toward President Donald Trump, it is clear that this sense of direction was based on a religious belief in lower taxes, gun rights, anti-reproductive choice, and opposition to universal health care. After initial reservations about Trump, Ryan succumbed to the intoxication of power. Republicans now controlled all three branches of government. Ryan saw his life-long goals in sight — a unique opportunity to pass his radical (not conservative) legislative agenda.

Ryan had to sell his soul to Trump, the most ignorant, sexist, and racist president in recent history. As Speaker, Ryan had a bully pulpit too, but we heard nothing from Ryan as Trump signaled his approval to those who wanted to stop immigrants with a “big, beautiful wall,” lock up Hillary Clinton, beat up the opposition, treat women like sex toys and call the free press traitorous. It is not too strong to call these tactics fascist.

Evidently, Ryan did not learn at Miami that leadership matters, especially from the president of the world’s most powerful and important democracy. Autocrats around the world are emboldened by Trump’s kind words, while victims of their oppression despair.

Know Nothings are happy to have a leader who also watches Fox News exclusively, reads no books and speaks their language. Trump’s repeated lies are not innocent political banter. A gun-toting Trumpite showed up at a D.C. pizzeria because he believed it was running Hillary’s child sex ring. And Ryan’s president indicts the media for fake news?

For years Ryan and fellow Evangelicals have pushed “family values.” Their mantra was “What would Jesus do?” What message did Ryan send when he was unwilling to break with Trump when he boasted that he grabs women’s genitals whenever he wants, or when Trump’s lawyer paid a porn star not to reveal an affair with the boss? As for those who accused Trump of assault, the president said that they were too ugly to warrant his attention. Surely Bill Clinton had his personal indiscretions too, but he did not boast about it, and he was a firm supporter of women’s rights, regardless of their physical endowments.

One wonders what Ryan tells his teenage daughter. “Well, honey, we have to accept the president’s sexist behavior because he will pass my legislation.” Trump’s 2016 win was due in part to his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which, according to Ryan, was a socialist program destroying America. No matter that every other developed country in the world has universal health care, and that their economies are sound.

While Barack Obama was in office, House Republicans voted over 60 times to repeal the ACA. Once Trump was in office, Ryan had no plan to replace it. Ostensibly, the ACA is still ruining the U.S. economy, although under the program tens of millions more now have health insurance.

Ryan was mute when Trump said that some at a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville were “good people.” Ryan was silent on gun control when little kids were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and had no reaction when high schoolers were gunned down at Parkland High School. Ryan’s kids are the ages of those killed in these massacres. His commitment to keeping assault weapons on the street is understandable; he takes more money from the National Rifle Association than any other representative. 

Ryan is an Irish name, so one can assume that his ancestors were the objects of Americans who wanted to build a figurative wall against the dumb, drunken Micks — now Trump’s “criminal and rapist” Hispanics. We heard no protest from Ryan; under his leadership, Republicans passed no immigration legislation, not even to protect innocent “DACA” kids who feel themselves as American as Ryan’s.

Ryan thinks that his signature achievement was the 2017 tax bill, which was based on his unwavering belief in supply side economics. No matter that the economy buzzed along in the 1990s after Clinton raised taxes, or that Obama’s demand side economics brought recovery from the Great Recession, brought on by George W. Bush’s belief that an unfettered Wall Street would work for the good of the country. Even Ronald Reagan, the Republicans’ guru of supply side economics, raised taxes.

For years, Ryan was a fierce deficit hawk, but that principle went out the window when he had a chance to lower taxes on rich people. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that $1.5 trillion will be added to the deficit in the next 10 years, mostly due to Ryan’s tax cut. Ryan’s children will have to pay for that. 

Ryan, a Miami political science major, would probably say, “That’s politics. It’s all about power.” No sir, it’s not. Irreparable damage has been done to the world’s image of America as a progressive country — a champion of the downtrodden, a beacon of democracy and a place of refuge. That is your legacy for the next generation, Mr. Ryan. The “sense of direction” you found at Miami has nothing to do with “love and honor.”

Sheldon Anderson

Department of History

anderss@miamioh.edu

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