It is as American as apple pie to honor the person who stands up for principle when most around him oppose his stand. I’m thinking, for instance, of Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine who spoke out against fellow Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s methods when it was a career-ender to do so.
This week, we witnessed two politicians willing to follow conscience over political expediency, which history will no doubt record as examples of profiles in courage, even if they do not feel entitled to the honor.
One, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, broke with his party and fellow Republican senators, standing alone in voting Trump guilty of abuse of power. The other, Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., bucked the overwhelming majority view of his constituents in voting guilty on both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Their votes were cast with the full knowledge that there would be personal and political retributions.
Neither man portrayed himself as a profile in courage, a term generally bestowed on elected officials who take a principled stand at great risk to their political careers. For both men, it came down to their oaths to uphold the Constitution and their sworn oath as impeachment jurors to provide “impartial justice” in weighing the evidence.
Both looked to a power higher than themselves in carrying out that oath. For Romney, it was his faith. “I take an oath before God as enormously consequential,” he explained succinctly and with great emotion. Even so, he said he expects “unimaginable” retribution from the president and his allies.
For Jones, it was love of country. And the example his father set for him. Jones, who lost his father during the holiday recess, stood watch as his father “slipped away” during the impeachment process. Jones said his father, “a fierce patriot,” inspired him by being a moral man “who did his best to instill in me the values of right and wrong.”
Throughout the impeachment and trial, we repeatedly read that it was all about a “partisan division.” Few would deny the partisan motivations present. Some Democrats cried for Trump’s impeachment from the moment he took the oath of office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who used his considerable powers to keep witnesses from testifying and vowed to work “hand in glove” with the president, publicly acknowledged that this was a partisan acquittal.
But Romney and Jones’s personal struggles tell us there were votes cast by conscience of right versus wrong, casting aside partisan considerations no matter how imposing.
The trial is over, but the verdict is not in. The trial was tainted by a lack of witnesses. And America remains divided.
I watched the president take several victory laps in his post-trial press conference, which he described as “not a press conference, but a celebration.” The celebration, which lasted all day, turned out to be a long and profane rant against his opponents coupled with lavish praise for those who voted to acquit him.
There was none of Lincoln’s, “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” in Trump’s remarks. Instead, the White House put out a statement about Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and his duty as Lead House manager, asking: “Will there be no retribution?”
The president is not going to change his ways. Congress is not going to change its ways. We, the average American voter, are the ones left to ensure that we once again live and govern together -- not without disagreement -- but without judgment and rancor.
We share American values that transcend partisan politics. The majority of us favor the humane treatment of migrants and giving protection to refugees from tyranny and terrorism. We are for health care as it now exists in law and for expanding its protections.
We believe in fair elections. We have faith in our local election boards. We trust our neighbors who put in the work to make our elections work.
We believe in a free press. We’re adults; we don’t expect objectivity in all publications. We do expect them to be free to publish so we can decide from the media clash what is true.
We believe in the proposition on which this nation was founded that “all men are created equal.” We reject the idea that equal opportunity is for some but not all. We abhor violence to others based on how they worship, or their nationality, or ethnicity, or race, or gender or who they love.
To get real, this means being genuinely civil and respectful to those who differ strongly with our views. It means reaching out, not with the expectation of changing minds but respect that they have the right to make up their own minds. It means finding common ground on the values and policies that we as a nation can and do agree upon.
It means “We the People,” is all the people. None are excluded from Constitutional rights and responsibilities because their politics differ from ours. It means that all have a seat at the table. That we rise together.
As evidenced by the actions of Romney and Jones this week, this sentiment is not a pipe dream. It is who we fundamentally are as Americans.