In Robert Bolt’s superb play, “A Man for All Seasons,” the lead character, Sir Thomas More, tells his daughter Meg that “when a man takes an oath ... 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.”
Earlier, in an exchange with Cardinal Wolsey, More argues that “when statesmen forsake their own private conscience ... they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”
Where are the honorable statesmen and stateswomen today who refuse to forsake their own conscience, no matter the price, and who honor the oaths they have taken as though they are holding their own selves in their own hands, like water? Though seemingly as endangered as snow leopards, a few can still be found. Utahns are fortunate enough to have one of them serving as their junior senator.
Sen. Mitt Romney certainly isn’t perfect, but he’s long been lauded for his character and, at this point in his life, he seems intent on living according to his own highest ideals and creating a legacy that he can be proud to leave to his grandchildren.
As McKay Coppins wrote in The Atlantic in October 2019: “In the nine years I’ve been covering Romney, I’ve never seen him quite so liberated. Unconstrained by consultants, unconcerned about reelection, he is thinking about things such as legacy ... and the grand sweep of history.”
In an interview with Coppins in February of this year, shortly after his vote to convict Trump on one of the impeachment charges, Romney spoke of the significance of taking an oath before God: “It’s something which I take very seriously,” he said, referring not only to the oath he took when he was installed as a senator but also the one he took before the impeachment trial — an oath to “exercise impartial justice” as a senator-juror. And in his view, “the president did in fact pressure a foreign government to corrupt our election process ... and really, corrupting an election process in a democratic republic is about as abusive and egregious an act against the Constitution — and one’s oath — that I can imagine.”
Agree with him or not, it’s impossible to doubt his sincerity — especially when watching the video of the speech he gave shortly before casting that vote, wherein he said, in part: “Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demand of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s abuse and the censure of my own conscience.”
It’s a rare and extraordinary thing to witness that kind of courage and integrity. And so, in this season when our hearts and minds are turned toward giving thanks, as a constituent and a citizen who is deeply invested in the health and well-being of our nation, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Sen. Romney. Time and time again over the course of the past few years, he has put principles over party, conscience over political expediency, often at enormous personal cost.
We will probably never fully understand that cost or the courage it took for him to take the unpopular stands he has taken. I’ve been astonished at the vitriol directed at him on his public platforms. Nevertheless, he has been firm in his resolve to, as he put it, quoting from a favorite hymn, “do what is right, let the consequence follow.”
It is not often we see this kind of moral courage in the political arena. And for those naysayers who point to his voting record and cry, “But, but, but,” may I remind you that Romney is a true conservative. He’s not voting “with the president” (or against the president) when he votes for conservative policies; he’s voting for what he truly believes in. And you can’t fault him that.
At the same time, he is one of very few Republicans in Congress who has not kowtowed to Trump nor entered into a Faustian bargain for power in exchange for his soul as so many of his colleagues apparently have. Instead, he has stood firm in his own convictions and, in so doing, has not only protected his character from “history’s abuse and the censure of [his] own conscience” but also has done something even more magnanimous. He has proved that honor and decency are yet to be found in the halls of Congress.
And that is no small thing. Thank you, Sen. Romney.
Sharlee Mullins Glenn is a writer, teacher, and community organizer. She founded Mormon Women for Ethical Government in 2017 and served as its executive director until 2019. She currently sits on the external advisory board for Brigham Young University’s Civic Engagement program.