“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” — Kurt Vonnegut, “Mother Night”
It was not cowardice on the part of the elected officials that allowed them to follow Donald Trump over the cliff into the abyss of sedition and insurrection. It was contempt.
Contempt for anything and anyone that threaten their precious, spoiled careers and colossal ambitions. Contempt for truth, if it meant having to do something hard — like say “no” to far-out conspiracy theorists. Contempt for reason if facts get in the way of fan service. Contempt for democracy if it means losing a party’s majority, or one’s own reelection. Contempt for norms and traditions when those things do not grab headlines. Contempt for history as the age-old ignominies repeat. And mostly, contempt for you and contempt for me — those of us who expect elected officials to serve with restraint, wisdom and honor.
All that contempt came to a violent, wretched culmination on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
But we should not forget the disgrace that occurred just the day before in Harrisburg. Tuesday, the play-seditionist state Senate Republicans caused an uproar in the chamber by removing Lt. Gov. John Fetterman from his role as presiding officer. They then voted — on a motion from state Sen. Ryan Aument, of Mount Joy — to delay seating a Democratic senator whose narrow election victory had already been certified (just as their own elections had been, but never mind).
Maybe their antics were meant to give heart to the Republican members of Congress like Lloyd Smucker, who voted early Thursday morning — even after the invasion of the U.S. Capitol by violent insurgents hours before — to upend democracy in Pennsylvania. Smucker knew his stunt — voting for Congress to reject the commonwealth’s electoral votes — had no chance to succeed, but it sure scratched an itch for his voters. Not, mind you, for his constituents as he claimed to LNP | LancasterOnline. To have voted on behalf of his constituents would have meant that he and the others who sought the rejection of state-certified electors had to consider those who cast their ballots for Biden and the overall statewide result. See above: contempt.
Isn’t it fun to play with matches when you know other, more responsible, representatives from your party will save the house from burning down? This time, they did. (Thank you, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and Sen. Pat Toomey.) But it is not a game; in fact, it is deadly serious. What happens when those who studied these anti-democratic maneuvers end up succeeding in deploying them?
We are left wondering whether last week’s disgrace was the last gasp of Trumpism or a harbinger of things to come. The crippled and craven Republican Party is consumed by Trump’s angry brand of faux patriotism and flaky conspiracy theories, so it is either going to burn and rot after he is out of office or keep his flame alive with Elvis-like fan devotion. Neither way points toward reform and repair.
It is time to build something new, a movement both forward-looking and rooted in the conservatism of timeless truths about human nature and the classical liberalism of individual rights, freedoms and responsibilities.
As I noted in a previous column, I left the Republican Party and became an independent four years ago as Trumpism was becoming ascendant. I learned Thursday that my friends Ethan Demme and John Blowers, both supervisors in East Lampeter Township and longtime GOP leaders, also have left the party (they were joined by Corey Meyer, another formerly Republican supervisor).
In a joint letter, the three wrote: “The denial of the 2020 election results by members of our party and elected officials in Lancaster County is outrageous. ... Continuing to deny these facts has damaged our system of government and has fomented the seeds of sedition, resulting in violence in our nation’s Capitol.”
They are absolutely right.
Channeling Ronald Reagan, there comes a time for choosing. There comes a time when you must rely on the evidence of your eyes and what you know in your heart is right. Sometimes that means both walking away and toward something better. Doing so is a profound act of self-respect and respect for one’s constituents.
Something new and better can emerge from the trash heap of Trumpism. Something grounded in truth, reason, compromise and compassion —\!q and led by people of character and moral courage. It is time to change how conservatives conduct our politics, in attitudes and actions and even party affiliation.
Instead of a politics of contempt, outrage and resentment, how about one that tends to, nurtures and defends our American democratic heritage? This would be far more precious and lasting than partisan victories, which can vanish in a relative flash.
But this kind of politics requires courage. Let’s pray more people find it in the days to come.
Ann Womble is a former chair of the Republican Committee of Lancaster County and former community member of the LNP | LancasterOnline Editorial Board.