In his farewell speech from the Senate floor today, retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.) warned of rising authoritarianism. "Let us recognize from this place here today that the shadow of tyranny is once again enveloping parts of the globe," he said. "And let us recognize, as authoritarianism reasserts itself in country after country, that we are by no means immune."
The speech was often personal in nature, including anecdotes about Flake's time in Namibia and his appreciation for Václav Havel's 1990 address to the U.S. Congress. "I learned more about democracy from the lives of those around me who aspired to it," Flake said, "rather than those who experienced it as a birthright."
Flake said he was "optimistic about the future of America" but noted that his "optimism is due more to the country that my parents gave to me than it is due to the present condition of our civic life."
"We of course are testing the institutions of American liberty in ways that none of us likely ever imagined we would—and in ways that we never should again," Flake said. "The threats to our democracy from within and without are real, and none of us can say with confidence how the situation that we now find ourselves in will turn out."
Flake denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "strongman" who "hijacked democracy in his own country" and "is determined to do so everywhere." Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, Flake noted, liberal democracy did not win out in Russia. "The road to democracy is not irreversible—not in Moscow, not in America, not anywhere," he said.
"As we in America, during this moment of political dysfunction and upheaval, contemplate the hard-won conventions and norms of democracy, we must continually remind ourselves that none of this is permanent, and that it must be fought for constantly," the senator said.
Flake frequently criticizes the president, and in the past he has linked Trump to the autocrats of other nations. Today, however, he refrained from directly using the word Trump, though he did note that "over the past two years" he has broached the topic of "the threats to our democracy" from the Senate floor. "And there will be time enough later to return to it in other settings," he added.
Bonus link: Matt Welch on "Jeff Flake and the Hated—Yet Vital—Libertarian Center."