Dear Utah Congressional Delegation,
You have the privilege of representing all citizens of the great state of Utah in Washington, D.C. Your jobs were not easy to win, and it’s understandable that you want to keep them. The name of the game, as Rep. Mark Sanford notes, is staying in the game.
Sanford, a libertarian-leaning conservative from South Carolina, made that comment on a recent “Meet the Press” after losing his primary race to a candidate more aligned with the president. Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker before him, also both reliable conservatives, bowed out before they could be defeated.
According to the website FiveThirtyEight, Sanford voted in line with President Trump 72.5 percent of the time. Flake and Corker each sided with the president’s positions on 84 percent of votes.
Yet all three men will soon be replaced. Why? All three were clearly on the president’s team when votes were cast. It’s not about their policy positions. The fatal flaw? These three stalwart Republicans had the temerity to criticize the president for his uncivil behavior.
The president views honest, heartfelt, respectful criticism as personal disloyalty, the highest of crimes in this administration. Trump picked these three legislators off, one by one, leveling ad hominem attacks at each individually, with plenty of time for his words to land resoundingly with his base.
No one wants to be on the losing side of a presidential tweet.
As Rep. Sanford told “Meet the Press, “I wasn’t Trump enough in the age of Trump.”
Do we really want a Republican party that defines itself by complete and utter obedience to its leader? And what does this mean for Utah, where in 2016, only 45.5 percent of our overwhelmingly Republican electorate voted for President Trump. Will Utah be the subject of a future tweet-storm?
Even if we support the administration’s policies, many of us have been appalled by the president’s unpresidential behavior. We have also been dismayed by the timidity of senators and representatives nationwide in failing to publicly and consistently push back on words and actions that would have been unacceptable to anybody of any party just a few months ago.
Is there any way to stay in the game and, at the same time, do what is ethically and morally right?
You, the Utah delegation, represent a reliably Republican state not overly enamored of the president. You represent citizens who believe deeply in common decency towards all, respect for the rule of law and the value of family. Very few of you face viable electoral challenges. You’re in a prime position to lead at this critical time in the life of our republic.
Stand together as a delegation. Acknowledge, as Corker did, that many Republicans who support the president publicly concede in private that his crude discourse and incendiary rhetoric worries them deeply.
Find your allies. I’m confident there are many. Rally them with the strength of your convictions. That our country is better than this. That staying silent in the face of a president who acts impulsively and erratically, who ignores the democratic norms that have guided our country and who demonizes people for traits and conditions over which they have no control, will destroy the Republican party and leave us with a far weaker country.
Form a coalition. Bring diverse voices together, not on the substantive issues of the day, on which you may still disagree, but on the fundamental necessity for the leader of our country to demonstrate basic standards of decency towards humankind. Take to heart Flake’s words on the Senate floor:
“If I have been critical, it is because I believe that it is my obligation to do so, as a matter of duty and conscience. The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened … is … I believe, profoundly misguided.”
As a robust and vocal coalition, you and your many colleagues can speak out with one voice, with courage and candor. You can change the destructive path our country is on.
The citizens of Utah will support you 100 percent.
Joanne Slotnik retired from over 30 years of state service as Executive Director of the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. She is a co-founder of Salt Lake Indivisible and a registered Republican.