We've all seen it: History is littered with memories of how the world's dictatorships and thugocracies handled dissent. Using horrific consequences for those who refused to accept the corruption, the most ruthless leaders have been responsible for throwing people from helicopters; blowing opponents to smithereens; murdering judges who tried to do the right thing; employing kangaroo courts to award harsh undeserved and long sentences; and framing opponents for crimes they didn't commit. These are the standard tools found in the playbook of demagogues.
Likewise, the worst crime organizations are masters of fear. Whether Mafioso or Mexican cartel drug lords, crime bosses understand that making people afraid is extremely effective in achieving compliance.
It's concerning, then, to see members of the Republican Party similarly cowering in fear. Though it is only one orange has-been who seems to be calling the shots, many GOP congressional representatives seem unable to employ conscience in their decisions. There have been a few exceptions, but the strength of moral integrity is in short supply.
It's a simple concept: When faced with some sort of excruciating pain, people will turn their backs on the finest parts of their character. Instead of reverencing the value of right and truth, their own perceived welfare becomes the only relevant standard. In such circumstances, survival goes to the head of the line, becoming the only serious consideration.
As fear is a proven motivator, it can be a daunting impediment to lawmakers following the best things their mothers taught them. Particularly, the mandate of making moral and ethical decisions is easily forgotten when dread becomes the boss. We've seen, time and time again, how the vilest of leaders used fear to hold their grip on power, and how, for the purpose of power-consolidation, the tack is terribly effective.
That control-through-intimidation should have disappeared in the peaceful transfer of our presidency. But it didn't. Today, almost all the Republicans in the House and Senate find themselves hopelessly cursed by a monster they supported for the past four years. Though Trump has flown the presidential coop, he continues to wield a remarkable amount of power over his party, making honesty and integrity a dangerous luxury for those who remain.
Sadly, the past administration employed the same types of intimidating behavior as the likes of Stalin, Franco, Hitler and other regimes viewed as deplorable by democratic historians.
Even sadder is the fact that, essentially, from his political graveyard, the past president has exerted extreme pressure on the cronies left behind. That has led to a new problem in America, but especially within the Republican Party. Like a bunch of scared mice, the present threat of political and financial ruin by the remarkably long reach of their former leader continues to threaten GOP's legislators.
Let's face it. People hate pain, and it doesn't matter whether it's physical—like the grim experience of being drawn and quartered—or if the repercussions of dissent are confined to more "civil" forms of punishment. Those, of course, include economic destruction, political embarrassment and the use of trumped-up charges, imprisonment or even execution for the purpose of eliminating the opposition.
Congressional members, including most of the Utah delegation, have become indentured to their love of power and the prospect of easy, financially secure lives. Fear has sentenced them to the sad reality of turning their backs on the conflict between right and wrong, truth and lie, because bucking the demands for a sick loyalty—required by the man who trashed their party—has become such a scary activity.
It's sad that Utah, which could easily follow a dignified path of moral integrity, has fallen into its current failure. While the Beehive State's congressional delegation cowers under its appropriately yellow attire, we do still have a few heroes who are willing to face the consequences of their commitments to do the right thing. Utah's own Sen. Mitt Romney has ostensibly sought to do the right thing, but in the past, he's been known for a bit of waffling. Meanwhile, Wyoming's Republican Rep. Liz Cheney is one of those who refused to allow tyranny to subvert her integrity.
It should be encouraging to Romney, Lee and the others, that the Republican lawmakers made it crystal clear: In a landslide vote, Liz Cheney's moral leadership—particularly relating to that one, historic vote of conscience—was applauded and sustained by those same legislators who continue to live in fear. My guess is that, if the impeachment of Trump were done by secret ballot, the answer would be a resounding "guilty." But going on the record is something Republicans find too terrifying.
Are Utah's representatives and senators capable of finding some courage? One can only hope.
The author is a retired novelist, columnist and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.