newsletter subscribe

Because insults sell newspapers and attract audiences, national media want Mitt Romney to be a U.S. Senator who frequently bashes President Donald Trump.

But Romney instead has a golden opportunity to set a positive example for the nation. Romney can demonstrate that civility is a Utah value, although it’s missing from most American politics. If such civility disappoints the media, then too bad.

This is not about staying silent. But Romney can choose to keep criticism of Trump totally impersonal, focused on issues and avoiding personalities. Reporters and reporters don’t want this; some hope that Romney is setting up to challenge Trump in 2020, especially by using harsh words like in 2016 when he labeled then-candidate Trump a “fraud” and “phony.”

Trump in 2016 countered by labeling Romney a “stone cold loser.”

The media’s bloodlust has not ended just because Trump now endorses the Senate candidacy of Romney (who accepted that with grace). Media agitators regard this as a temporary and phony truce, offered only because Trump foresees a Romney runaway at the polls. Those cynics take heart from Mitt’s promise to “continue to speak out” when he disagrees with the President, which they interpret as a pledge that the insults will return.

Instead, Romney should seize his golden opportunity to set an example of civility which would resonate in Utah and across the country. Leading the charge against endless name-calling and accusations requires Romney to do three things:

  1. Truly confine his criticisms to policies and not personalities,
  2. A public proclamation to live by this standard, and
  3. A public challenge for others to do the same.

Courage is contagious and Romney has the stature to lead. If he does, there are others who surely will follow; then all of us will benefit.

Avoiding cheap shots does not require muzzling yourself. Differences of policy and opinion can be expressed in a multitude of ways that avoid being crude, tacky, or personal. It is tough to do, because powerful but civil words are harder to compose than cheap shots.

Yes, some will always delight at words that rip into President Trump (or delight when Trump rips into others). Plenty of America’s negative voices will never stop, yet many would tone it down if someone would set the right example.

Romney has led in this way once before. He described it recently in his very first public speech as a Senate candidate. He told Utah County Republicans that, as GOP governor of Massachusetts, he was able to work with a legislature that was over 90% Democrat by ordering his staff to avoid public criticism of Democrat lawmakers and following that standard himself. After six months, Democrat leaders wrote Romney to express appreciation and to pledge likewise to refrain from public criticisms. On this foundation, a working relationship was built.

It’s time to do that again. Never-ending negativity is dragging down the country because harsh voices are too common and too harmful. But controversy-centered national media will be dumbstruck by the public applause if Romney will lead a trend in the other direction.

The late Gordon B. Hinckley stressed this virtue, writing, “Civility . . . becomes an expression of the Golden Rule: ‘Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them (Matthew 7:12).’”

Many politicians have abandoned the Golden Rule but our most-beloved leaders did not. George Washington as a schoolboy wrote, “Use no Reproachful Language against any one.” Abraham Lincoln told us, “Even though much provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill temper.”

He could start a movement if Romney promised never to utter harsh words about the President nor political foes -- and then stuck by his commitment. Only policies would be criticized, but not people. This would be a stark contrast with the constant hysterical rhetoric that is sickening most Americans.

Yes, this would be a turnabout from prior harsh statements by Romney, but that would make the positive impact all the greater. It’s never too late for any of us to eat our own words. Doing so can be a sign of character.

Such a powerful example might even influence the White House. But even if the President’s language is untouched, proclaiming the Golden Rule would touch a great many other Americans. This is Mitt Romney’s Golden Opportunity.

Former U.S. Congressman Ernest Istook now teaches political science at Utah Valley University. See https://www.uvu.edu/profpages/profiles/show/user_id/20466