Rare courage

Since Wednesday, I have heard a number of different pundits including some famous television show hots as well as some individuals I know and respect, refer to a line from Robert Bolt’s play, “A Man For All Seasons:”

“When a man takes an oath, Meg, he's holding his own self in his own hands. Like water (he cups his hands) and if he opens his fingers then, he needn't hope to find himself again. Some men aren't capable of this, but I'd be loathe to think your father one of them.”

The quote has been coming up in reference to the speech made on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Senator Mitt Romney as he explained his vote to convict President Trump of abuse of power. Romney, a devout Mormon said that his vote came down to the oath that he took. I suspect, frankly, that many of his colleagues weren’t listening when he spoke eloquently about the power to taking an oath before God, but his words and his passion were inspirational to me. I hope that they provided inspiration to others. I suspect that when all of this has blown over and our nation has taken time to evaluate what has happened, Romeny’s words will remain to inspire future generations of loyal American citizens. They should be preserved.

Romney has already experienced significant negative consequences of his decision. He has become the pariah of the right. He has been disinvited from the Conservative Political Action Committee’s gathering. His wife has been called a traitor by hecklers. He will certainly receive a great deal of personal attack from the President of the United States.

Still, it surprises me that there is so little courage among his colleagues. Those who have been behind the scenes at Republican gatherings report that there is a great deal of fear among Republicans of what would happen if they were to show any disloyalty to Mr. Trump. Virtually every former employee who has left the administration, and there have been a lot of them, has written a book about how dysfunctional the administration is and how difficult it is for the President’s inner circle to avoid the whimsey of his anger. He has made it clear, step out of line and you will be punished and subject to public ridicule.

Still, as one who remembers when the Republican Party was a party of values instead of the personality cult that it has now become, it seems incredible that there is no courage left among Romney’s peers.

Whether you take the position of Robert Bolt’s character in his play or you are persuaded by the religious convictions of Mitt Romney, it is clear that those who choose to simply follow the party line without straying will one day pay the price for the decisions they have made.

People who once had the courage to speak truth to lies - good people like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and even folks like Lamar Alexander and Ted Cruz - one had the courage to point out an obvious lie. That courage has faded, but the lies have not ceased. According to the Washington Post, the President has made 15,415 false or misleading statements since being elected. It isn’t hard to find reasons to correct his speech. But increasingly, people are simply afraid to do so.

I read the words of prominent thinkers from the first half of the 20th Century such as Viktor Frankl and Erich Fromm. They were struggling to make sense out of the choices that seemingly intelligent and educated Germans made to go along with the insanity of Nazism and the murderous ways of Adolph Hitler. They struggled to make sense of how people would willingly choose to abandon freedom for a dictator. I used to read those words with a certain kind of detachment because they were about other people in another place in another time. They ring with incredible power these days as I witness the conversation of the Republican Party to the Party of Trump and the personality cult that has grown up over the Reality TV President. Make no mistake about it. I do not think Donald Trump is Adolph Hitler. There are plenty of differences. What I do see, however, is how political rallies, fueled by emotion and lacking in any connection to rational argument inflame the passions of a lot of people. I hear a leader openly attacking science and education and banning the use of words that disagree with his point of view. I see people who abandon simple math and reason.

In the defense of the president, US senators talked about “disenfranchising 63 million people who voted for President Trump,” as if the 65 million who voted for his opponent in the last election don’t count. I heard people who I thought were conservative Republicans speak of conviction as if it would leave the party without a candidate for the 2020 election - as if they literally believed that the entire Party rested on the personality of one man.

My loyal Republican grandfather would be horrified. It certainly seems that we are witnessing the end of the party as we have known it. The conservation of Teddy Roosevelt, the humility of Abraham Lincoln, the wise judgment of Dwight Eisenhower - these seem to all have disappeared.

I usually avoid politics in my journal. There are plenty of other pundits with more insight than I and I have an obligation to serve people whose political views are very different from my own with love and compassion and care.

However, I feel compelled to express my gratitude for the speech given by Mitt Romney. His words, his faithfulness to his oath, his integrity and conviction will stand long after the dust has settled and the people have forgotten the arguments. the speech deserves to be preserved in the annals of our country. Its lessons should be taught to our grandchildren.

I know that his vote and his speech made no difference in what was a foregone conclusion. But I will not forget his courage. It is, after all, a very rare commodity in today’s world of politics.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!