Two things always strike me when I think about Mitt Romney. One, I wasn’t totally crazy about him being the Republican nominee for president in 2012, because I never thought that he was conservative in the native sense–that when he tried to make his appeals to those of us on the ideological right, he spoke the words well enough but it wasn’t his natural inclination. That really wasn’t surprising, considering that he had been a Republican governor in a solidly Democrat state, and he wouldn’t have gotten elected there had he not been more of a down-the-middle moderate. To take on Barack Obama and win, I thought that the GOP would have been better of nominating someone who had the fire of conservatism burning inside of him–but that year, the pickings were pretty slim (probably because all the other A-listers were too afraid to take on the Obama machine and lose), and in the end Romney was the one who seemed best up to the challenge.
The second thing I remember is also the thing that made me happy to vote for him, in spite of my misgivings: Of all the men who have run for president, Mitt Romney was probably the most decent. In his personal life, he set an exemplary example. A faithful husband and father, he also gave generously of his time and his fortune, and used them both to make the world he lived in a better place. He was the kind of man who not only would fund the construction of a neighborhood playground out of his own pocket, he’d also show up to help build it. Moreover, Romney too his faith’s admonition to love thy neighbor personally, taking his own time to help people in need and not rely on a charity or some government agency to do it for him.
Of course, that didn’t stop the Democrats from painting him as a monster straight from central casting. In the course of a rough-and-tumble election, by the time they were through with him, Mitt Romney was a murdering robber baron who humiliated a gay student in high school and hated the family dog so much he strapped the poor beast to the roof of the car, Aunt Edna style, while taking the family on vacation. In spite of everything, however, Romney remained a gentleman, as befitted his character. That’s why it was so heartbreaking when he lost to Obama, a man who could only pretend to possess the same moral fiber that Romney did.
So when Romney has something to say about the current political climate, I tend to pay attention. Today, he took to Facebook to comment on the recent terror in Charlottesville, and how President Trump handled the aftermath:
I will dispense for now from discussion of the moral character of the president’s Charlottesville statements. Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn. His apologists strain to explain that he didn’t mean what we heard. But what we heard is now the reality, and unless it is addressed by the president as such, with unprecedented candor and strength, there may commence an unraveling of our national fabric.
The leaders of our branches of military service have spoken immediately and forcefully, repudiating the implications of the president’s words. Why? In part because the morale and commitment of our forces–made up and sustained by men and women of all races–could be in the balance. Our allies around the world are stunned and our enemies celebrate; America’s ability to help secure a peaceful and prosperous world is diminished. And who would want to come to the aid of a country they perceive as racist if ever the need were to arise, as it did after 9/11?
In homes across the nation, children are asking their parents what this means. Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims are as much a part of America as whites and Protestants. But today they wonder. Where might this lead? To bitterness and tears, or perhaps to anger and violence?
The potential consequences are severe in the extreme. Accordingly, the president must take remedial action in the extreme. He should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize. State forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100% to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville. Testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis–who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat–and the counter-protestors who were outraged to see fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband and Nazi salute. And once and for all, he must definitively repudiate the support of David Duke and his ilk and call for every American to banish racists and haters from any and every association.
This is a defining moment for President Trump. But much more than that, it is a moment that will define America in the hearts of our children. They are watching, our soldiers are watching, the world is watching. Mr. President, act now for the good of the country.
There’s a lot to ponder here, and Romney makes some points that I hadn’t considered before. Is it possible that Trump’s words could diminish the views of America by her allies, and as a result threaten our national security? Possibly–and the potent fact underlying that possibility is the unique position of the presidency, which is seen as not only a bastion of great power but also moral leadership. In not being unequivocal in his initial denouncement of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, I agree that Trump wounded not only himself, but the office he holds. Words matter, and I still find it unbelievable that nobody in the White House–least of all the president himself–understood the gravity of the moment well enough to know that.
Where I take issue with Romney, though, is in this:
State forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100% to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville. Testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis–who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat–and the counter-protestors.
The counter-protestors have a name: Antifa. And their manifesto is quite clear. Some of them desire anarchy, while others are dyed-in-the-wool Communists–but what they have in common is a desire to crush any opposition to their own views and their agenda. They use violence to punish and to terrorize anybody they view as an enemy–and that enemy could just as easily be an innocent bystander as it could be some KKK sympathizer. To them, a “Nazi” is anyone who doesn’t agree with their point of view. And once labeled as such, they have no reservations about dealing out what they see as appropriate punishment. In short, Antifa has no regard for law and order, and only disdain for Constitutional rights. Perhaps Donald Trump’s timing in criticizing them was bad, even offensive–but it doesn’t make him wrong.
Also, in granting Antifa a moral stature that they don’t deserve, Romney is inadvertently encouraging their cause. This, in turn, will only serve to encourage their methods. It guarantees more violence, which will keep escalating until they also kill someone. And in doing so, they will feel entirely justified.
Good men and women should stand against all political violence, and make clear that it will not be tolerated. I’m afraid, however, that Mitt Romney may have muddled that message.