A gloomy question for a gloomy time.
Imagine that you are suffering from a serious, likely fatal, disease.
Would you rather be in a coma, natural or induced, and be blissfully unaware of your dire situation, spared any emotional or physical pain, until you either recovered or peacefully slipped away?
Or would you rather remain awake, fully conscious, given every chance to look fate in the eye, say goodbye, tell your family and your doctors what you think should be done, even if it’s hopeless, maybe even rage a little against the dying of the light?
In other words, would you rather be Mike Lee or Mitt Romney?
In just the past few days, we have seen the difference between someone who seems unaware of the disease our nation is suffering and someone who does see it pretty clearly but feels powerless to stop it. Neither seems a state to be envied.
The cluelessness of Utah’s senior U.S. senator, Lee, was on full display as he used his time in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett to make incoherent speeches about imaginary threats to religious liberty and, as was noticed by some HuffPost writers, wave a of copy of a pocket U.S. Constitution put out by a wacko fringe Mormon group founded by over-the-top conspiracy theorist and theocrat W. Cleon Skousen.
Then Lee led the charge against social media platforms Twitter and Facebook for their efforts to block the sharing of an extremely dicey hit job on Joe Biden and his son Hunter, the source of which was the off-his-rocker Russian asset and embarrassment to his own family Rudy Giuliani.
Lee’s description of the social media gurus' actions as “censorship” is false on its face, as any lawyer, much less a self-styled constitutional scholar, should know.
It is only censorship if the government does it, if it uses or tries to use its police power to shut down the flow of information. Facebook is not the government. Twitter can regulate its own traffic, but cannot and has no desire to block the publication or website of The New York Post or any other independent media operation.
Meanwhile, Utah’s other senator, Romney, has demonstrated how being awake, if not exactly woke, through all of this just seems more painful than anything else, to him and to those watching.
Romney, we already knew, seems to be of two minds on the state of our politics in general and the fitness of our chief executive in particular. He called out the then-candidate as a fraud and a phony even before the Orange One had secured the Republican nomination. Then he showed up at the president-elect’s hotel to supposedly interview for the secretary of state gig, and all he got out of it were a bunch of embarrassing photos.
Romney was the only Republican in the Senate to vote guilty on either of the impeachment charges brought by the House — the only senator in U.S. history to vote to remove a president of his own party. But he has supported just about everything else this nasty president has wanted, including now saying he will vote to confirm the latest Supreme Court pick made by a president he had already said shouldn’t be president.
In just the past few days, on his own Twitter account, Romney has shown that he is aware of just how dysfunctional our politics are, even though he seems agonizingly powerless to do much about it.
Tuesday, he put out a strongly worded statement, accurately lamenting how modern politics has become “a vile and vituperative hate-filled morass.”
Friday, Romney tweeted again. Again he called out the nastiness of modern politics. (And rose above, at least a little, by spelling everything correctly and not bursting into all caps.) He denounced the president’s most recent failure, when given repeated opportunities, to denounce “an absurd and dangerous conspiracy theory” and criticizing both parties for being reticent to “expel the rabid fringes and the extremes.”
In both cases, Romney fell a bit into the “both sides” trap which afflicts both politicians and journalists who wish to appear reasonable and centrist. Though his primary target clearly is the president — who, as I have for the past four years, he resisted calling by name — he feels the need to include slams against the left for — accurately — calling the president a “terrorist." And he takes the president’s bait by including the squishy movement called “antifa” in his list of those groups to be shunned.
The fact is, as Romney seems to see, that while no political party or movement is pure or above criticism, the threat to American civilization and democracy today comes almost exclusively from the right. Well, the far right. Because it is the supporters of the president who are taking up arms, threatening elected representative assemblies and sitting governors and attempting to justify the murder of minorities and activists.
Mike Lee is oblivious to that. Mitt Romney, through all the sedation, twitches and blinks in a way that suggests he knows what is happening.
We should all hope that, after Jan. 20, he, and we, will all feel justified in going gently into that good night.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, looks forward to a time when he can again listen to national news broadcasts without a feeling of existential dread.