In the 1980s, British television ran a political satire called Spitting Image, which skewered the leading public figures of the day. It featured puppets (better than it sounds, I promise!) and periodically mocked Ronald Reagan with its segment, "The President's Brain is Missing", which featured said president, various members of his cabinet and family, and Bono, on a perpetual mission in search of the elusive grey matter.
Here in Nevada, in the opening weeks of Donald Trump's authoritarian administration, we're in bad need of a segment called "The Senator's Spine is Missing!"
You see, Trump’s cabinet nominees, executive orders, twitter feed, pocket white supremacists, and every utterance have revolved around attacking things that a majority of Nevadans value: liberty, migration, diversity, and their health and welfare.
So I can only suppose that as we speak, Nevada Senator Dean Heller’s staffers are engaged in a mad scramble, up and down the state in search of the spine Heller must have misplaced in the course of his official perambulations. There is virtually nothing else that could explain his studied silence on most issues, and deliberate inaction on those where he has whispered his reservations.
Some longtime residents of my adopted home have informed me, more in sadness than in anger, that Nevada Senator Dean Heller is a bit dull, and so expectations must be lowered. But there is also something pretty cagey about the way that he has handled the Trump administration’s concerted assault on the rights and welfare of mounting categories of Americans, as well as our global brothers and sisters.
Heller made much of--and won applause from progressive groups as a result of--his questioning of Trump’s Goldman Sachs appointee to the Treasury. But his reservations about the economic fundamentalism, corporate welfare, and slashing attacks on the middle class that have characterized the early days of this administration have not translated into concrete action or language. Given that Goldman Sachs represents everything that Trump claimed to oppose, I would expect Heller’s hackles to go up. But hackles presumably require a spine for anchorage.
In other cases, Heller has hitched his wagon to more popular and cerebral figures like Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval, using this as cover for his support of nominees whose policies clearly run at cross-purposes to the well-being of the constituencies Heller and Sandoval represent.
As of a few days ago, Heller had supported each one of Trump’s nominees. This means endorsing Rex Tillerson’s corporate takeover of our foreign policy and Mike Pompeo’s anti-whistleblower and anti-oversight national security agenda. Heller has also offered a verbal commitment to back Betsy DeVos’ promised assault on public education and by extension on Nevada’s children and their future.
Heller has had almost nothing to say about Jeff Sessions, whose history of racism, contempt for the Voting Rights Act, and role in shaping Trump’s disastrous and discriminatory refugee order make him a truly awful nominee to head the Justice Department.
Presumably after a months-long scramble, Heller’s staffers will turn up evidence of their boss’ vertebrate status after the votes in question. In the meantime, their strategy seems to be to unplug the office phones and wait out the storm in the bunker, since Heller is presumably incapable of moving anywhere until his backbone is recovered.
But if the find the Senator’s spine in the meantime, I recommend that they perform a very rapid transplant followed by a denunciation of Trump’s actions and nominees. Political survival alone should dictate that our Senator in Absentia should not only speak out about Trump’s policies and nominees, but should also be organizing his party’s caucus in opposition to the people and measures that threaten Nevada and Nevadans.