Belonging to the Utah Legislature makes you powerful, George Pyle writes. But it doesn’t make you smart or kind.

Utah lawmakers cause harm to helpless souls. Do they think they somehow deserve it?

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Capitol building Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34

As with most religious writing, there can be many interpretations of this key biblical phrase. The idea that the Son of God thought that it was a good thing for people — powerful people — to act out of ignorance would probably not be a good way to read it.

Unless one is a member of the Utah Legislature.

The list of issues on which the Republican super-majority of the Legislature proudly wears its thickness on its sleeve, waving it about for all to see, is long.

A lot of it has to do with the natural world and the environment. Denial of climate change. Clinging to coal production as a viable source of revenue and electricity. A blind renunciation of the facts about the relationship between predators and prey, which causes our Legislature to pour money into efforts to stop the reintroduction of wolves into the landscape on the totally bogus argument that not having any wolves about will improve the population of elk and deer. When anyone who is not a biological illiterate knows that the opposite is true.

There are other scientific fallacies that our elected worthies cling to. The myth that a human fetus has a “heartbeat” at six weeks gestation. Hot denial of the fact that vaccinations are the single greatest creation in the history of humanity, piled on top of the idea that people should have the religious, personal, parental or just ornery right to refuse them. Even though that makes all anti-vaxxers clear and present dangers to the whole of their families, schools, workplaces and communities.

We probably still have people in positions of authority who think that if people are too poor to have health insurance they can always get the health care they need in their nearest emergency room. This bilge, which delayed for years Utah’s adoption of the Medicaid expansion, ignores the fact that health care doesn’t happen in emergency rooms. It never has.

There’s no chemotherapy in the ER. No kidney transplants. No physical therapy. No cardiac rehab. No therapy for diabetes — unless you count having your dead foot amputated once your diabetic body has cut off its circulation.

These are not just honest differences of opinion, the kind where politics, at its best, can be a means to discuss and solve disputes, often by splitting differences or otherwise finding compromise.

These are matters of life and death.

We will probably never know how many Utahns died because the Legislature usurped the rightful authority of duly appointed health officials, canceling vaccination and mask mandates. The state acted not because these mandates were unwarranted impositions on personal freedom — they weren’t — but because we are apparently a state largely populated and primarily governed by 8-year-olds, whose logic does not extend beyond, “I don’t want to.”

We may, though, be able to get an idea of how many people will die because of the Utah Legislature’s current overt display of dimness, its crusade to deny transgender young people the medical and emotional care they need.

It almost certainly won’t be as many as have died, and still will die, from preventable cases of COVID-19. But, if families of the victims are willing to come forward with the information, we will be aware of the suicides that result, not just from the fact that young people who need such care won’t get it, but from the fact that the state of Utah is in the process of taking an official position that causing harm to these helpless souls is a good thing. That they somehow deserve it.

This contemptible pack of laws making its hasty way through the legislative process, in the hope that no one will be able to stop and think about it, might be more ignorance. Or it might be something worse.

The lawmakers who pretend to know more about health care than just about every professional medical association, more about wolves and coal and education than all the experts combined, might not really think their knowledge is superior. They may just not care.

They may be operating, in the phrase attached early on to Trumpism in all its forms and ideations, on the premise that the cruelty is the point.

They may be practicing a form of politics that is based on first instilling some irrational fear in a significant percentage of the population and then riding to the rescue. Like a bored firefighter committing arson just to justify his job.

This political faction has pretty much used up Americans’ fear of emancipated women. The fear of Black people, of immigrants, even of same-sex marriage, isn’t as useful as it used to be. Though a lot of folks haven’t given up trying.

The target groups keep getting smaller and smaller, which is unfortunate for the victims because, with each ratchet down, those in the crosshairs have fewer people in the same boat with them, fewer allies, and are easier to pick on.

It’s their way of winning votes and contributions by “Owning the libs.” “Sticking it to the elite.” Defying what George Wallace called the, “pointy-headed college professors.” By being mean to the right people.

What’s really contemptible about the flood of anti-trans bills in the Utah Legislature is not so much that lawmakers are ignorant. It’s that they think the rest of us are.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is grateful to his father for having him read a bit of Plato in his youth: The part where Socrates explains that knowing that you don’t know everything is the greatest wisdom.


Twitter, @debatestate