“If power corrupts, weakness in the seat of power, with its constant necessity of deals and bribes and compromising arrangements, corrupts even more.”
Abraham Lincoln saved the Union and freed the slaves. Theodore Roosevelt busted the trusts and built the Panama Canal. Ronald Reagan cut taxes and stared down the Soviet Union.
What happened to this party of principles? Now that it abandoned Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan, does it have future? Does it have a platform? With no viable Democratic opposition in most of the state, what does it mean that Utah’s ruling party not only governs without checks and balances, but is without principles or a platform of ideas?
These are not policy positions or campaign platforms so much as the kinds of things that come into play when a national political party has no positions or platforms, much less any real leadership or vision. (The 2020 Republican National Convention did not bother to write a platform.) When a party sees itself less as a means to govern than as just another blabbering cable TV channel.
This was all apparent last week at the Utah Republican Convention, where delegates lapped up the en vogue buzz words as delivered by both Utah politicians and their guest of honor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, leaving no time to address serious issues with credible solutions.
A year ago, the cause of the hour was CRT, critical race theory, the imaginary threat to use the public schools to inculcate innocent children with racial guilt and self-loathing.
This year, it was ESG, or environmental, social and governance. That’s at least a real thing, a metric used by some investors who want the free market choice to put their money into corporations that at least pretend to care about climate change, social justice and good corporate governance. But the idea that it is a secret plot to make private money do special things is bogus.
Making private corporations bend to the will of those in power, after all, is a Republican thing. As demonstrated by DeSantis’ cartoonish battle with Disney and the Florida governor’s open efforts to punish The Happiest Place on Earth for not being sufficiently hostile to its many LGBT customers.
Who knows what shiny new thing Republican delegates will be alarmed about next year. Or even next month.
In the meantime, Republicans in Utah and nationally find themselves hemorrhaging younger voters, even among young members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the state party’s most reliable farm system.
Utah Republicans last week installed a new leadership team, all of them under the age of 40, who pledge to bring young people back to the party by practicing a “boldly conservative” style of politics.
So far, we have yet to see what that would mean. Just about everything that Republicans in Utah and in many other states have devoted their time and energy to seems designed to actively repel what would be the rising generation of Republicans in favor of throwing more red meat to the core of the party’s active support over the last dozen years.
The Republican super-majority in the Utah Legislature has been doing everything but attracting young supporters. They’ve banned gender-affirming treatments for transgender youth, prohibited transgender girls from scholastic sports, all but outlawed abortion, moved to ban young people’s access to social media, sent taxpayer dollars to support unregulated private or religious schools, done little to clean up our air or make us safe from gun violence, and not enough to save the Great Salt Lake.
Meanwhile, the most prominent Utah Republican who would still be recognized as such by the likes of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — Sen. Mitt Romney — is being challenged by Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson and called out as, effectively, a traitor by the Emery County Republican Party for “giving aid and comfort” to Democrats. Which is that party’s way of describing someone who follows what used to be the conservative path in favor of our institutions, the separation of powers and the rule of law.
This matters even to people who are not and have never been members of the Republican Party.
On a national level, the absence of a responsible center-right party threatens to seriously unbalance the national debate.
Utah, meanwhile, has long been a one-party state. But if that one party is dysfunctional, if it abandons serious issues such as water, air, transportation and education to focus all of its, and thus everyone else’s, attention on showing just how wrong it can be on matters of race, gender, women’s rights, guns and education, it leaves us without a functional government of any kind.
Which may be the point.
Civility in government?
The answer to all of this would be for more people to get involved, in Republican politics specifically and the political realm generally, and pull both the party and the body politic back to a more moderate course. To participate in the GOP caucus and convention system, to vote in primaries, to run for office.
That is made more difficult, obviously, by the nasty nature of politics that repels women, minorities and younger people.
Utah leaders both religious and political have called for a new era of civility and conciliation in the public square. That’s good, as far as it goes.
But Gov. Spencer Cox, just as one example, warns young people away from the cesspool of social media even as he himself posts snarky tweets about California Democrats. (Maybe the reason Cox is trying to ban young people from Twitter is so they won’t see his own nasty posts.)
And it seems clear that, in some Republican-controlled bodies — specifically the Montana and Tennessee legislatures — demands for civil behavior are actually an excuse to silence minority voices. Which is about all the modern Republican Party has to offer.