New year, same political drama. Freshman Utah Senator and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney rang in 2019 with a scathing column in the Washington Post attacking President Donald Trump’s character and temperament. In the piece, Romney claimed that while he hoped Trump would succeed, he did not believe the president’s conduct had “risen to the mantle of the office.” Romney continued, admitting that while Trump’s policy positions have been quite conservative, “policies and appointments are only a part of a presidency.”
Romney says: “A presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow ‘our better angels.’ A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect.”
And he’s correct. The people we elect should be held to a high moral standard because, according to Socrates, leadership is “the noblest kind of excellence.” The actions and rhetoric of our presidents should befit the dignity of the office they hold and the ideals and values they represent as the President of the United States. It is no secret that Trump — an admitted serial adulterer among other things — seems to be severely lacking in many of these essential qualities. He is not a leader that we should hold up to the next generation for them to emulate, and he is not a man we should hope our sons grow up to be like.
With that being said, what is the point of Romney’s op-ed? Trump’s faults are not new and they have been more than sufficiently covered by mainstream media. Romney claimed he wrote it as a declaration that he will stand for his principles, not just for Trump and the GOP. This is all well and good, but actions speak much louder than a controversial column.
Furthermore, this moral posturing by Romney points to the possibility of a 2020 primary challenger for Trump — a move that would be sure to fail and guarantee a Democratic president for the next four years. I may agree with the message of Romney’s op-ed, but his political motivations remain a mystery.
The reactions to Romney’s piece also reveal an alarming trend that has become all too common in the era of Trump. In an effort to defend the president and his agenda, Trump’s most ardent supporters attacked Romney and denied the existence of the president’s obvious flaws. One of the most egregious examples of this was articulated by the president of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr. in an interview with the Washington Post.
When asked if Trump could do anything to lose his support, Falwell responded with a simple “No.” When pressed, he elaborated, “Only because I know that he only wants what’s best for this country … I can’t imagine him doing anything that’s not good for the country.” This statement demonstrates an abandonment of principles that has accompanied the cult-like support of Donald Trump. The president, regardless of his character, has become the standard by which right and wrong is judged, replacing the eternal truths that Christians and conservatives claim as their own.
Others, such as the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Henry Olsen, responded by saying Trump either had to be supported entirely or not at all: “Romney would like you to believe you can have your cake and eat it, too — that you can be against Trump’s character but for his policies.”
Others articulated a similar sentiment, saying Romney should just get in line and help the Republican cause rather than causing division within the party by talking about silly things such as one’s character or morality. Like Falwell’s, such statements demonstrate the desertion of principles for loyalty to a man.
Loyalty is certainly an honorable character trait, but this kind of thinking is flawed. While we should love and support our friends, families, and fellow countrymen, it is improper to give them our undying loyalty regardless of their actions. There are standards higher than us by which we must judge the actions of fallen human beings, and the president is no exception. If we do truly care about the well-being of our country, we must hold the man who leads it accountable and asks him to do what is good and right, not just what is expedient or what will “win.”
Like all of us, Trump will have to answer to his Maker for his sins. It is perfectly reasonable to support him for his policy positions while still admitting that he has many deep character flaws. With that said, it is also reasonable to point to these flaws as a disqualification for any person as a leader worthy of support. But what is not acceptable is a corruption of our morals and values to kneel at the altar of a man. If we decide to put our faith in men, we will be disappointed. But, if we stay true to the eternal morals, values, and truths handed to us from God above, using prudence as our guide, conservatives will be fighting the good fight handed down to us from our forefathers. And that is a battle worth winning.
Erik Halvorson is a senior studying Economics.