The Sin of Politely Deferred Indecision | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Sin of Politely Deferred Indecision 

Impeachment should not be determined by party lines.

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[Editor's note: On Wednesday, Feb. 5, Sen. Mitt Romney announced he would vote in favor of the article of impeachment on abuse of power against President Donald Trump.]

For those of us
who believed that a presidential impeachment would follow the basic rules of jurisprudence, the past week has been an alarming disappointment. Although it's not completely over, the vote against allowing the testimony of witnesses cements the understanding that the trial was, at best, a sham. We can now clearly see the problem of how easily 51 senators could sidestep the issue of guilt in order to do their party's bidding. Just as the judicial branch should not be a political tool—but have absolute separation from other branches of government—a trial of our president should not have been determined by party lines. At the very least, the proceeding should have ended in a strong official censure of the president's reprehensible actions.

Sagacious observers had predicted the outcome—that Donald Trump would somehow rise from the muck of his actions and live to run for a second term. But, despite those predictions, the moral-minority had held a faith that justice and principle would prevail. Surely, there was no question that Trump had introduced a new level of thuggery to the Oval Office, and only a hopelessly failed system could allow for the possibility of his escape. There was also no question that he sought a political favor in return for releasing promised foreign aid; something that was not only immoral but patently illegal and flagrantly unpatriotic. Just as described by former National Security Advisor John Bolton, it had all the makings of a "drug deal," and Trump, Mick Mulvaney and Rudolph Giuliani were all very much a part of it.

Well, it wasn't Trump's first rodeo. He'd already been nailed by the Mueller investigation, not for collusion with the Russians—though the report made it clear that he knowingly allowed their interference in the 2016 election—but for his rampant disregard of ethical boundaries, particularly on the matter of obstruction of justice. There was never a question about that, though special prosecutor Robert Mueller, for some inexplicable political expediency, declined to make the call. It was crystal clear; Trump had intimidated witnesses and withheld evidence with a systematically applied irreverence for the rule of law. The report, if you've read it, made it obvious that the president crossed the line—not just once, but time and time again.

The impeachment was a second chance for Americans to condemn a corrupt executive; it should have been a slam-dunk. Every senator took a sacred oath (that they would act as impartial jurors) and we all wondered how the stiff-white shirts of the GOP could fulfill that obligation, when some had actually declared beforehand that they would acquit Trump. After all, had there ever really been a doubt about the party's moral depravity? Republicans made it easy to fulfill that pledge by simply denying the appearance of those people who had personally seen Trump's treasonous acts. There was reason to believe that a small number of decent Republicans would raise their voices in support of allowing first-hand witnesses, and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was one of them. Yet, mostly out of the fear of antagonizing his constituency with a strong, resounding voice, Romney missed his chance for moral leadership. He could have provided it, blowing the bugle and rallying the troops, but instead shirked the opportunity to unite a handful of senators who believed in the Constitution and were committed to applying its principles. My belief is that other senators would have joined him had he just found the courage to do what his conscience required. We elected him to defend our democracy. Romney's last-moment pangs of conscience were bitterly disappointing. While he might be able to say that he made the moral choice, his fearful dithering was almost as bad as blindly following the party leadership.

Leaving the impeachment to the lottery of the he-said/she-said second-hand accounts made it possible for each of the senators to conclude that they had done the right and moral thing. If anything, the impeachment proceedings have been very educational. Every American now knows that it's OK to enlist the help of a foreign government in a presidential campaign—the consequences of which Trump has already twice-escaped—and that it's business-as-usual for the current Tammany Hall of America's leadership.

Although he was one of only two GOP senators who attempted to do the right thing, Romney could have provided some earlier moral leadership for his fellows. It was almost as if he was hiding and hoping the White House and his party wouldn't notice his departure from party unity. For those who believed him a principled bastion among the slimy creatures of the Trump swamp, Romney's last-moment stand was not a triumph, only a very disappointing example of how he is constantly torn between the moral-right and the pandemic absence of principles suffered by the rest of his party.

Perhaps it's all related to what Beehive State voters had in mind when they marked Romney's name on the ballot. Did they envision a man who would stand and be counted for his moral integrity, or were they simply electing a senator who would be a cog in the political machine? Although fellow Republican Sen. Mike Lee's morally vacuous position could be totally anticipated, we expected something better from Mitt. He could have changed history, but he did too little, too late. 

The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and one mongrel dog. Send comments to

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