February began with high drama in Washington and a reminder — as if we needed one — of the tension and anger that has taken over the nation’s politics.
On the first Monday of the month, we had the botched start of the presidential nomination process in the state of Iowa. The next evening, Donald Trump delivered his annual State of the Union Address. The following afternoon, he was acquitted by the Senate Republican majority on impeachment charges brought by the Democrats who control the House.
All that in just three days of unease and vindictiveness, leaving heads spinning and stomachs churning.
And yet, there were glimmers of hope.
The technology used to calculate voter preferences in Iowa failed, but no one said the voting process itself was rigged or otherwise flawed.
The president’s speech — a carefully scripted event that seemed more like a TV reality show with Trump bestowing “gifts” on guests in the audience — was still handled with traditional decorum (with the possible exceptions of Republican lawmakers chanting “four more years” and Speaker Nancy Pelosi tearing her copy of the address in half.)
The trial went according to strict procedures, with all Senators in attendance and listening quietly at their desks while lawyers for the House and Donald Trump made their case. And even though the outcome was politically pre-ordained, there were signs of courage from three brave members willing to take a stand, even if they knew it might hurt them with Trump supporters back home.
Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia are anomalies in the Senate — Democrats representing states where the president is wildly popular. They voted to convict and remove Donald Trump from office.
So did Mitt Romney of Utah — the lone Republican to find the president guilty of abuse of power. He will go down as the first senator in US history to cast a vote in an impeachment trial to oust a president of his own party.
Romney was the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. He was governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007… and internationally, he may be best known among sports aficionados as the man who stepped in to save the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
But this vote will be his legacy. Amidst all the craziness of Washington, Romney — through his sheer determination to stand up for what is right — is setting an example for us all. He is a living reminder of the importance of placing country and conscience over party.
His actions during the impeachment process — to borrow the title of a well-known book by the late President John F. Kennedy —-constitute “a profile in courage.”
Romney gave little indication how he would vote during the early stages of the trial. But when all the legal arguments were over, and senators were finally given the opportunity to address the chamber, the usually staid Senator from Utah look somewhat shaken as he began to speak.
“The Constitution is at the foundation of our Republic’s success, and we each strive not to lose sight of our promise to defend it,” he began.
He called the allegations against the president “very serious” and spoke of the oath all senators had made at the start of the trial to exercise impartial justice.
“My faith is at the heart of who I am,” said Romney, who is a devout Mormon. “I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”
He reviewed the case as he saw it and as presented by both sides. He said the president crossed a line by asking a foreign government to investigate his political rival, and then withholding vital military funds.
“Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office than I can imagine,” Romney concluded.
His voice cracked a bit with emotion when he acknowledged he would face consequences for breaking with his party. But he said he knew it was the right thing to do, adding “I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability believing that my country expected it of me.”
It was the one moment of surprise — a history-making one at that — in a trial with a pretty well-ordained outcome.
Romney could have taken the easy way out and just voted to back the president. Instead, he took a stand.
Many wrote in the coming days about this lone Republican voice of conscience. But perhaps the best — and briefest — take came in a Twitter post from Anand Giridharadas, an author and political commentator on the opposite end of the political spectrum:
“There aren’t a lot of moments of pure patriotism and self-sacrifice in American life anymore, of bravery in the face of what will be a remainder of a life filled with threats and disparagement. Let us honor one when we see it.
Bravo and thank you, @MittRomney”
The reaction from the president was quite the opposite — vindictive and mean.
The morning after the Senate vote, President Trump went to the National Prayer Breakfast, a gathering in Washington attended by religious leaders and members of both political parties.
It’s an annual event, and typically a bipartisan one. But the president was having none of that. “I don’t like people who use their faith for doing what they know is wrong” he said, in an apparent reference to Mitt Romney.
“Nor do I like people who say ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so,” he continued in a presidential swipe at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has often cited her Catholic upbringing in saying she “prays” for Trump.
The president did not let up. His remarks were not about faith. They were about him. “As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people. They have done everything possible to destroy us and by so doing have badly hurt our nation.”
He also cited the rising stock market, boasted about his approval ratings and urged attendees to vote in November if they approve his policies.
Compare that with the words of Mitt Romney in his historic speech in the Senate chamber:
“I love our country. I believe that our Constitution was inspired by Providence. I believe that freedom itself is dependent on the strength and vitality of our national character.”
There are those who believe that the time will come — must come — when the partisan bitterness in this country will start to fade and we will learn to live and work through our differences.
Let Mitt Romney’s words be a guiding light.