George Pyle: Maybe Utah offers a refuge for real Republicans

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah's First Lady Jeanette Herbert tour the new Utah Refugee Education and Training Center at Salt Lake Communty College Medowbrook Campus Tuesday Nov 10.

So, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert last week received a lifetime achievement award from Governor’s Refugee Services Advisory Board. A board he created and whose members he appointed.

That does not diminish the good news that Herbert would even want public recognition of his genuine efforts to welcome, assimilate and boost the hopes and prospects of refugees who are seeking a new life in this land of refugees. Too many members of his Republican Party these days would run and hide from any suggestion that they have not fully capitulated to the practicing xenophobia of their Dear Leader.

Even when politicians manipulate and spin — especially when they manipulate and spin — it matters greatly what image they seek to maintain. It tells us not just what those leaders and would-be leaders think of policy and politics, but what they think of us.

Even running Herbert’s award through the most cynical of filters, it appears that he thinks he gains politically from being seen as a friend of refugees and immigrants. That his long-developed political savvy tells him that he will make more friends than enemies — for himself, his administration, his legacy, his successors and his state — by displaying decency and a lack of fear than by donning the armor of white supremacy that now clothes the temporary occupant of the White House.

Utahns can feel good about the fact that that is the image their governor has of them.

Or maybe there is no spin here at all. Especially as Herbert is not seeking another term in office, and so has the luxury of not caring what anybody thinks, we might even dare to think that this compassion for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free is who he really is. That he would deserve such an award even if those who bestowed it didn’t work for him.

It would be better, of course, if Herbert would more fully reject the whole of the president, who basically has nothing to offer anyone other than a promise to protect white people from somehow being replaced by people who are, well, not so white.

It would boost his, and Utah’s, image even higher if our governor were less simpatico with the administration’s disdain for public lands and affection for all things fossil-fueled.

Still. Being a friend to refugees is no small matter these days. And perhaps it is not just Muslims and Africans and Mexicans who can come to Utah and thrive.

Maybe those who might gain the most from Utah’s attitude are real Republicans. Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan Republicans. Folks who welcomed immigrants and refugees and saw the desire of those souls as the strongest evidence that America is great because so many people want to come and live here.

In 1995, a religious scholar and fan of all things Irish by the name of Thomas Cahill published a book titled, “How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.”

Its thesis, derided by some other historians as vastly oversimplified, is that after the Roman Empire fell, as the continent of Europe was overrun with warring Vikings and Vandals and Visigoths, much of the wisdom of Classical Rome and Greece found refuge in remote Irish monasteries.

There, Catholic monks who had little else to do busied themselves making ornate copies of Homer and Aristotle and Euclid.

When it all calmed down again in France and Germany and Italy, all that knowledge made its way back to its birthplace and flourished into the Renaissance and beyond.

Also, there is the theory, outlined by Neil deGrasse Tyson in his version of “Cosmos,” that primordial life on earth was barely getting a single-cell cilia-hold on existence when some cataclysm — volcanoes, meteors or some such — basically wiped it all out. Except the upheaval was so violent that a great deal of matter, with attendant life forms, was ejected into space, spun around for some millennia, then, Davie Bowie-like, fell to Earth when the planet had once again become hospitable to such things. Hence, us.

So we have the example Herbert has set.

We have #NeverTrumper Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox first out of the gate in the contest to replace him.

We have Sen. Mitt Romney occasionally working himself into a state of medium dudgeon.

We have former Rep. Jason Chaffetz deciding his hitch on White Supremacist TV might not endear him to most Utahns were he to run for governor. (Not to mention the huge pay cut he’d have to take.)

Which means there might be some slim hope that real Republicanism — not the rot that has set in at the top of the party, in Congress and in right-wing media — might hide out in Utah until the coast is clear and the rest of the nation is ready to welcome it back.

OK. I’m grasping at straws here. But, if Cahill and Tyson are right, we’ve come back from much worse.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.


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