Ten years ago, my family relocated to Utah. In the years since, I have been observing our many Mormon neighbors with mixture of curiosity and fascination. Not to mention some degree of skepticism, owing to my background as a mainstream Christian with pronounced Evangelical leanings.
Last week, the words and actions of one devout Mormon transformed this skepticism into deep respect.
Sen. Mitt Romney’s Senate floor speech that preceded his vote on impeachment took my breath away. He did not just do what was right and speak the truth. He did these things while breaking from the protective shelter of his political tribe, standing alone and exposed to their reflexive outrage.
Since my earliest days, I was taught that this sort of bravery is what we most admire and should, whenever presented with the opportunity, mirror in our own lives. Yet in fact, the display of bravery by Romney was beyond extraordinary. With few, if any, analogues in our current political landscape, such bravery seemed until last week to be nearly extinct.
Two things most stand out in Romney’s courageous stand. First and foremost, he was guided by his religious faith. He gave his oath before God, and then — amazingly enough — actually took that oath seriously.
In American political life, religious faith is supposed to be a matter of outward appearance only, on a par with wearing the right clothes and selecting the correct salad fork. Make your political calculations and decisions based on anything but your religious faith, but be sure to always invoke, “May God bless the United Sates of America,” as window dressing.
Romney declined to use religion as a tool of partisan conformity. He chose instead to apply the underlying principles of his Mormon faith to a critical decision placed before him as a public servant. As expressed under trying circumstances, Romney’s Mormonism revealed itself to be much more closely aligned with New Testament teachings than what we typically see from modern-day Evangelicalism.
Many right-wing Evangelicals – and one almost has to ask, is there any other kind these days? -- have repeatedly exposed themselves during the Trump years as self-serving, power-hungry Pharisees. (It should be added that this has not gone unnoticed by a few of their more thoughtful members.)
This negative exposure reached its zenith during the recent impeachment proceedings. From the outset, Evangelicals granted their venal, debased and out-of-control leader a blanket indulgence from any form of wrongdoing, viciously attacking anyone engaged in a search for the truth.
Romney, in stark contrast, recognized through his actions as well as his words that God is truth. The faithful are taught to embrace and promote truth in public life, not suppress it. Romney followed this teaching.
Secondly, Romney gave us a much-needed reminder of the embattled notion that our system of justice is based on impartial fact-finding rather than accusation and innuendo. Here he was countered by the flat refusal of Trump’s acolytes to weigh the evidence.
Their distorted concept of justice springs from pure ideology, untethered from and unrestrained by a search for truth. It is an ideology dismissing all who dislike Trump (a plurality of Americans, at recent count) as inhuman “scum” to be fought at every turn.
Impeachment was a dead issue from the outset, simply because it was initiated by Democrats. All evidence presented in support of impeachment was disregarded, just as the receipt of any additional witness testimony and documents was met with wholesale rejection.
The Trumpist ideologues won. But their victory, while inevitable, was not total. Not quite.
One brave Republican senator followed the law, followed the evidence and followed the dictates of his conscience and his oath before God. That solitary act of courage ripped asunder any pretense that the vote of the Senate majority resulted from some recognized legal principle, or a principle of any sort, save for the principle of raw ideological expediency.
Romney’s demonstration of faith will — I hope and pray — long outlast the ethical and religious bankruptcy of his corrupted political party.
Robin Campbell is a resident of Park City and an attorney who practices appellate law in California.