For two consecutive weekends, thousands of people have filled Boston streets in opposition to President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policies, and for two consecutive weekends, Governor Charlie Baker has been nowhere in sight.
Don’t expect that to change any time soon.
“Where’s Charlie Baker?” chanted many in the 10,000-plus throng that flooded into Copley Square last Sunday to protest Trump’s muddled, unconstitutional executive order banning US entry to people from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Now Baker is even the subject of social media satire: @altCharlieBaker, which tweets comments the governor would say if he were not “an apologist for Trump” and @WheresBaker, which criticizes his absence when “our democracy is under threat.”
On Sunday, Baker released a painstakingly worded statement that mentioned how the executive order created “confusion for families” and “unexpected disruption for law-abiding people.” He never mentions Trump by name; he avoids the words “ban,” “immigrants,” or “refugees.” Baker says he hopes the federal courts will “clarify that status of those affected,” but his comments willfully lacked the heat generated by Mayor Martin Walsh, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and Attorney General Maura Healey at the rally.
When asked Monday by Jim Braude, cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio,” whether he would have attended either rally if not for scheduling conflicts, the governor dodged a direct answer like the Pats’ Dion Lewis dodges tacklers.
“I think my job is to represent the interests of the Commonwealth, and the most important way I can represent them to Washington, D.C., is through the channels that exist, and to make sure that everybody who wants to engage in public discourse here and peaceful protest can do so in a peaceful, safe way.”
In other words, Baker is afraid of provoking the tyrant in the White House.
By now, everyone recognizes Trump as a vindictive bully who demands complete fidelity or else. For Baker, there’s the unspoken belief that “or else” could endanger vital projects, such as the $1 billion Green Line extension that, he said, “is currently sitting before the Federal Transportation Administration.” While he supports the rights of protesters, Baker said, “I’ve got to also make sure that I represent our interests strategically and forcefully in Washington with Washington where we have tremendous interests.” And by Washington, Baker means Trump.
Every state is threatened by Trump’s inexhaustible wrath, yet concerns about retribution haven’t stopped other governors such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf from sharply criticizing the president; in a Tuesday tweet, the best Baker could offer was, “We look forward to the courts resolving this matter expeditiously.” This lukewarm statement hardly sounds like the same man who, during the presidential campaign, questioned Trump’s temperament, skipped the Republican convention, and made clear that he would not vote for Trump (or anyone else). Back then, dissing Trump was easy — few believed he would win, and a Republican governor panning an off-the-wall Republican presidential candidate was celebrated in this very blue state.
Now, in treating Trump so gently, Baker risks toppling the careful balance that’s allowed him to maintain high approval ratings across the aisle. To many of his constituents, this is no time for their governor to parse his words and turn away from the growing voices of discontent ringing outside the State House. There’s no middle ground to be found with a gangster president who intimidates and insults perceived adversaries and treats the Constitution like a diaper.
Next year, Baker will seek reelection, and with his current popularity and considerable war chest, many assume he’ll win. Yet if we learned anything from last year’s bruising campaign, it’s that elections are decided in voting booths, not polls. Someday we will all be held to account for what we did during the Trump years. That day may come sooner for Baker if Massachusetts voters recall how their governor, in a time of unprecedented national crisis, avoided speaking out and standing up to that tired old man in Washington who thinks he was elected king.