Shelly Cluff: Some Utah leaders are complicit in unmooring followers from truth

Mitt Romney is honest about Donald Trump. Too bad Stewart, Owens and Reyes aren’t.

After violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol today, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, joins other senators as they return to the House chamber to continue the joint session of the House and Senate and count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

When Sen. Mitt Romney stood on the Senate floor and said, “The best way we can show respect for the voters who were upset is by telling them the truth,” it hit me like a bolt of lightning.

That’s it, I thought, he nailed it.

One of the greatest costs of the Trump presidency has been a loss of ability, for many, to distinguish what is true. That loss was fueled by reluctance from Republican leaders, including many in Utah, to alienate the “Trump base,” a reluctance so powerful that they loosed themselves from the truth in order to accommodate falsehoods.

The thing about truth is that finding it is not a lazy endeavor, and telling it requires courage. Truth must be diligently sought after and plainly stated. While some leaders may actively silence their consciences in order to pursue political ends, others simply neglect the hard work of truth finding in favor of easy adherence to the tribe, while still others lack the courage required to deviate from tribal rhetoric with truth.

Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol has undoubtedly shown us the costs of leaders who give life to lies, and too many of Utah’s own leaders are complicit.

On the very day of the attack, newly elected Rep. Burgess Owens joined other House Republicans to challenge the counting of certain state electoral votes, as did Rep. Chris Stewart. These representatives justified their actions with messages of constitutionality, but the Constitution calls for no such discussion of or objection to elector’s votes. The text plainly states that the president of the Senate will “open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.”

Defending the Constitution, they were not.

The violence at the Capitol was not the result of this one vote, but rather the result of a crescendo of lies and either ignorant or willfully deceptive complacency from Republican leaders and figureheads. Just as Owens and Stewart voted against acknowledging the votes of certain state electors, they have consistently echoed Trump’s claims of widespread fraud in the weeks after the election. These allegations give no acknowledgement to the dozens of failed lawsuits in multiple courts, from multiple states, to audits and recounts, and to the contrary assessment from Trump’s own attorney general.

As Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump-appointed federal judge, clearly stated in one such ruling, “Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

Our state attorney general, Sean Reyes, took part in this crescendo when he signed on to a feckless lawsuit from Texas seeking to undo the presidential votes of multiple states. Many of our state representatives publicly cheered his move, and others quietly justified it. The lawsuit’s claims that elections were changed unlawfully had already been pursued through state courts to no avail.

Notably missing from the lawsuit’s attacks were other states who had similarly changed election laws, but where Trump had won, like Wyoming. Even more, this lawsuit did not seek to undo all ballots cast, merely to change the presidential elector slate — because why undo all the Republican winners down the ballot?

The partisan motives were glaring. That lawsuit was not about honoring the law, or about upholding the Constitution, but about trying to make Donald Trump the president when he did not earn the votes to be. Shame on you, Sean Reyes, for joining Utah to such a cause.

Not only did the Supreme Court decline to hear the case, but even those who would have heard it, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, made it clear they would not have ruled in Texas’s favor.

While these and many other Utah leaders contributed to deceit and confusion, leaders like Romney and Rep. John Curtis should be celebrated for speaking truth to lies, boldly and without equivocation.

Former Gov. Gary Herbert, Gov. Spencer Cox and many others have also displayed similar willingness to speak truth, even when it breaks with party rhetoric, on many occasions. The courage and integrity of these leaders have surely helped others to preserve their own and I cannot applaud them enough.

Gratefully, Wednesday’s events have been a wakeup call to many, as truth has a way of coming to light eventually, and I am humbled by anyone who can admit error or change their minds.

I hope each of our state leaders can reflect on the role they may have played, wittingly or not, in accommodating the unmooring of so many Americans, and especially Utahns, from the truth.

Shelly Cluff

Shelly Cluff, Riverton, is a member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government and a mother of four. She is a registered Republican and has served most recently as a delegate to state and county Republican conventions.