Rick Shapiro: Utah governor’s support for Ukraine rings hollow

When Spencer Cox has supported Donald Trump and gerrymandering he is not a friend of democracy.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox and local business owners announce an effort to raise donations for the people of Ukraine, at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

I, like many others, have become a single-issue voter, that issue being the preservation of democracy in our nation and around the world. As such, I have been moved and shaken by the recent events in Ukraine. I have watched President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine with great awe and admiration as he faces a Goliath of evil in the form of Vladimir Putin and the Russian military. His courage and heroism, unique in today’s world, has been a wonder to behold.

This past week, our governor, along with other public officials in the state of Utah, held a rally in support of the Ukrainian people. While I was heartened to see Gov. Spencer Cox and Republican officials in our state stand on the stage at the rally, the hypocrisy of their presence was stunning and a mockery of the heroic Ukrainian people and Zelensky whom they purport to support.

To credibly support democracy abroad, one must first be a champion of democracy at home. Instead, these Republican officials have supported and largely watched in silence as the leader of their party, Donald Trump, has betrayed our democracy and democracies around the world at every turn and has shown nothing but contempt for the Ukrainian people and their leadership.

Contrast President Zelensky. When faced over the last months and days with the most critical decisions of his life, whether it was how to respond to the “perfect phone call” from Trump or to capitulate to Putin in the months and years leading up to the invasion, or whether to now flee with his family to safety in the face of overwhelming odds, Zelensky has, each time, chosen principle and freedom over personal preservation and safety.

Cox, on the other hand, when confronted in recent times with some of the most critical political decisions of his life, chose to support Trump in 2020, however tepidly, to crassly further his own candidacy for governor at the expense of every principle he claims to hold dear. More recently Cox chose to sacrifice every notion of fairness and equity in embracing obscene political redistricting maps that violate every principle of decency and democracy that he knows to be true.

Each time, Cox made the tragic decision to embrace ambition and power over principle and democracy. In choosing ambition, political expediency and a symbol of bigotry and autocracy (Trump), Cox has amply demonstrated to every Utahan who he truly is, despite his sometimes-soaring rhetoric.

We all deserved much better from Cox. And so, when I see him on a stage talking of democracy and the glory of the Ukrainian people’s fight for freedom, his words, to me, fall deaf and mute. To deserve to utter the names of heroes, one must demonstrate, in one’s own life, a commitment to the very same principles for which those one extols fight.

Gov. Cox, you have tragically failed us on that score.

Rick Shapiro

Rick Shapiro is a mostly retired public affairs professional who resides in Oakley. He serves as an advisor to the Alliance for a Better Utah, an organization whose mission is to drive a public narrative that empowers the Utah electorate and holds public officials accountable.