For years now Republicans in general, and Utah Republicans in particular, have sought to hold the moral high ground as advocates for, if not perfect exemplars of, American values.
It can be hard and unappreciated work in a society that doesn’t always find such values compelling or convenient. And it doesn’t take much to bring the whole tent crashing down around you.
Which is why it is so dispiriting to hear, again, Rep. Chris Stewart abandon the high road of American virtues and choose instead to belittle the murder of a U.S.-based journalist on the grounds that the cruel regime that apparently ordered it is an ally and the U.S. president who doubts the conclusions of his own CIA chief wishes to downplay it.
Doubtless Stewart, just elected to his fourth term, does do things for his constituents. But such work, by its nature, does not get a congressman on CNN, or cause YouTube snippets of his latest interview to be shared 27,000 times.
What Stewart is now known for, across the country and around the internet, is his constant sycophancy, not on behalf of his district or even his party, but in service to the president, mostly in moments and on issues where everyone else is scrambling to distance themselves from the administration’s more disgusting actions and attributes.
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul are among those sharply criticizing the president over his lack of concern for Saudi wrongdoing. Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. John Curtis are working to end the administration’s support for the cruel Saudi war against Yemen.
But this week we saw Stewart appear on CNN to support the president’s pooh-poohing of evidence that the crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia — Mohammed bin Salman — ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist who used the freedom of the press found in America to criticize the Saudi regime.
To hear Stewart tell it, the gruesome murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey may be regrettable, but it’s nothing to get all that worked up about.
“Journalists disappear all over the country,” Stewart said, "Twenty journalists have been killed in Mexico. You don’t think it happens in Turkey and China? Of course it does.”
Yes, it does. In fact, 2018 is already shaping up to be one of the deadliest years ever for working journalists, with the Committee to Protect Journalists counting at least 45 of them killed so far.
But such happenings are also an affront to freedom wherever they happen and, as in the congressman’s examples, are generally a threat in nations that are either totalitarian states or where civil government is powerless to control criminal gangs.
Or does Stewart envy government officials in such nations? Would he be so quick to shrug it off were journalists from, oh, say, The Salt Lake Tribune to go missing?
Stewart’s frequent attempts to wave off the conclusions and advice of the nation’s professional intelligence apparatus — reports from the CIA and other agencies that conclude that Russia did interfere in the 2016 elections and that Saudi Arabia did order the murder of Khashoggi — serve no apparent purpose. Unlike the president, he isn’t in the business of renting luxury hotel rooms or building high-end apartment buildings with Saudi money.
So why does he seem to place so little value in such pillars of American values as freedom of the press?
It doesn’t make any sense.