Many Republican commentators, elected officials and Trump surrogates are denouncing Senator Mitt Romney’s vote to convict Trump. He is reviled by the Republicans as a traitor and applauded by the Democrats. I was touched by Romney’s emotional speech explaining his vote because he emphasized the importance of his sworn oath before God to exercise impartial justice. It is rare that anyone gives to a solemn oath the importance it truly deserves. Words should mean something.
In an interview, Romney also said something else that was very important: “I have found in business in particular but also in politics, that when something is in your personal best interests, the ability of the mind to rationalize that that’s the right thing is really quite extraordinary. I have seen it in others and I have seen it in myself.”
What Romney said about human nature explains what some people are saying in man-on-the-street type interviews following the Senate’s verdict. One of the typical answers I hear emerging is, “I don’t think he did anything wrong. He was just trying to protect taxpayers from corruption.” Really? Is there any genuine doubt, based on the evidence, that Trump held up Congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine? Is there any genuine doubt, based on the evidence, that Trump was doing everything possible to leverage his considerable power over the military aid to get the President of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son? Is there any genuine doubt, based on the evidence and the law, that it is illegal for a President or any other government official to interfere with, delay or withhold military aid or financial aid appropriated by Congress? Is there any genuine doubt, based on the evidence, that Trump intended to benefit politically by a Ukranian investigation of the Bidens and by a faux investigation of Ukranian (rather than Russian) interference in the 2016 elections? Is there any genuine doubt that Russia, which is at war with Ukraine and is our enemy, would be the primary beneficiary of withholding or delaying military aid to Ukraine? Is there any doubt that Ukraine is our NATO ally and that Ukraine’s defense of its territory against Russian aggression and hegemony is in our nation’s strategic interests? The answer to these questions is obvious. To say otherwise requires one to totally disregard the evidence, but the necessary mental gymnastics are made possible by the human frailty of rationalization followed by justification. As Romney said, “the ability of the mind to rationalize…is really quite extraordinary.” I believe psychologists and sociologists now call this phenomenon “confirmation bias.” We arrange and rearrange the evidence as necessary to conform to our preconceived beliefs, opinions, biases, desired outcome, and above all, our own best interests. We hear what we want to hear. We see what we want to see.
Back to the oath. Romney took his oath literally, personally and seriously, just as he was supposed to do. The oath created within Romney a crisis of conscience that he was not prepared to ignore, set aside or rationalize regardless of the personal cost. That is exactly why we have oaths. The oath, at least in theory, is intended to warn the taker of the oath of the possible earthly (legal) consequences of false swearing and the inevitable need to answer to God for what we do in His name. Mr. Romney correctly anticipated the angry reaction of his party and the vindictive retribution of Trump. I’m sure he also knew that Democrats would praise him, but he seems to have not been motivated by either fear or hope of praise.
There are also other casualties that should be mentioned and thanked. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the decorated soldier and National Security aide who is at least partially responsible for bringing Trump’s misconduct to light, has been fired by Trump. For good measure, Trump also fired Vindman’s twin brother, Lt. Col. Yeugeny Vindman, who was a National Security Council lawyer. Also on the chopping block was Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union. Then, Senator Rand Paul “outted” the whistleblower who filed a formal complaint, which is possibly unlawful and at the least despicable.
Growing up in West Texas I frequently saw dead coyotes hung on ranch fences. It was supposed to be a warning to other coyotes. Trump’s crude retaliation is a warning to others about the price to be paid and it should be a warning to us.