Courage in the Age of Trump

Courage in the Age of Trump February 12, 2020

Peter Wehner continues his opposition to the president by praising Mitt Romney’s vote to convict Donald Trump on the charge of abuse of power:

Mitt Romney is doing something nearly unheard of these days: He’s putting his country above his party. He’s voting his conscience when doing so comes at a cost. He’s not rationalizing weakness and timidity by prettying them up as virtues. He will vote to convict President Donald Trump, in an act of extraordinary political courage.

This decision would have negative ramifications for Romney in any era, but he faces particularly harsh consequences in this one, when political tribalism has never been more acute, when hating those who see things in politics differently than you do is fashionable, and when invective against perceived enemies is more emotionally powerful (and satisfying) than is affection for those you believe to be on your side.

We are living in the Era of Rage.

Mitt Romney knows this, and he therefore knows the attacks on him will be vicious. He will be accused of being a traitor not only by the president, a cruel and unforgiving man, but also by his fellow Republican lawmakers, the right-wing media complex, and even many of his constituents.

Actually, this is only partly true. Romney may face real criticism from Trump supporters. He may face a challenge for his seat in the Senate in 2024 when Romney will be seventy-seven. He may also retire by then. Romney has also received praise from the upper echelons elite media thanks to his vote. Wehner should mention, if he is going to avoid being partial and try to report or describe fairly, that the fractured nature of American society allows everyone — when it comes to the president — to receive plaudits and huzzahs. The question is whether you’d prefer to have them from the Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, National Public Radio, CNN, MSNBC, and the Atlantic magazine or from Fox News, The Washington Examiner, and the New York Post. If any ordinary American were faced with that line-up of media outlets in which to be featured, they’d probably choose the former — which is where Romney finds his sweet spot of public relations right now.

How courageous is that?

Wehner tries to explain:

Romney’s views are not all that rare among his Republican colleagues, who know in their hearts that what Trump did was inexcusable and indefensible, the crossing of a once unthinkable moral and ethical red line. Had a Democratic president done the same, it would easily have cleared their bar for impeachment and removal from office. What is rare, however, is Romney’s courage. He acted honorably, and he acted alone.

To see so many Republicans who know better tie themselves into ethical knots to justify their fealty to Trump—and then to watch them lash out defensively when they are called on it—is a sad and pitiable thing.

Wehner’s point about courage might be more persuasive if he himself wrote in praise of Romney somewhere other than a magazine that, although not as relentless as the New Yorker, has still be manifestly opposed to the Trump presidency (and supportive of efforts to remove him from office). What courage does it take to write what Wehner did or to publish what he wrote at an outlet like the Atlantic?

What if he had tried to write for a publication that reflected Senate Republican’s hypocritical failure to convict Trump? What if he wrote for World magazine at a time when all the editors and most of the writers understood that Trump is unworthy of high office but were unwilling to go public with their opposition? Or what if Wehner tried to make his case against Trump (which includes praise of Romney) on the radio with talk show hosts like Hugh Hewitt or Howie Karr? In other words, what if he tried to make his case to audiences where his outlook was going to prompt people not to read Wehner’s columns or buy his books? It could be that Wehner would not change anyone’s minds in conservative media outlets. And that’s all more reason to wonder about writing an “Amen!” column for people whose outlooks are obvious.

Writing for opponents to your view might be risky. The alternative, writing as an evangelical for non-evangelicals who already agree with you and want to know that evangelicals agree with them, is not.

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