Opinion: Censuring acts of conscience is un-American

It’s only with dignity and respect for one another that we can work through our disagreements…

  • Tuesday, January 26, 2021 8:59pm
  • Opinion

By Rich Moniak

In his inaugural address on Jan. 20, President Joe Biden spoke of the difficult work we face to restore and heal our “precious” and “fragile” democracy. Overcoming those challenges “requires that most elusive of things in a democracy” he said. “Unity.”

Biden isn’t so naïve as to believe Americans need to come to a common understanding of our problems and the solutions to them. He asked us to “open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.” Because it’s only with dignity and respect for one another that we can work through our disagreements in a civil manner.

For that to happen though, the country needs two healthy political parties. And right now, the conservative one is treading toward the self-destruction that Harlan Fiske Stone warned about just over a century ago.

“Both morals and sound policy require that the state should not violate the conscience of the individual” the future Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote while defending the rights of conscientious objectors during wartime. And “it may well be questioned whether the state which preserves its life by a settled policy of violation of the conscience of the individual will not in fact ultimately lose it by the process.”

The Republican Party is not a state, but in its misguided defense of our former president, two local chapters are condemning party members for their acts of conscience.

Last week, the Central Committee in Carbon County, Wyoming, formally censured Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, after she voted to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month. It’s her sincere belief that there’s “never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

A resolution censuring Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey was to be voted on at the Arizona State Republican Party’s annual meeting on Jan. 23. His act of conscience was following the law by signing the certification of the state’s true election results which had Trump on the losing side.

Now, it’s conceivable the party in Kentucky might censure its leader in the U.S. Senate for blasphemy against Trump.

“The mob was fed lies,” Sen. Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”

That proceeding was the acceptance of the Electoral College results. The lies he referred to were Trump’s stolen election conspiracies that have been refuted by election officials in every state, Trump’s own Department of Justice, and the dozens of judges that dismissed the lawsuits filed on his behalf.

The second impeachment of Trump isn’t “a wrongheaded, partisan notion,” as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., claims. It’s an essential act of accountability for the gravest offense again American Democracy. It cannot be separated from his lie.

With very few exceptions, even Republicans in Congress don’t believe it. But to save the party, many are expressing opposition to convicting Trump. And they’re pointing to Biden’s plea for unity as a way to escape their responsibility to consider the evidence and apply “impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws” as required by the oath they will take.

Paul and others who fear convicting Trump “will destroy the party” need to recall the words of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, during the first impeachment trial when he was the sole Republican who voted to remove Trump from office.

“Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

Self-censure is the appropriate response for the betrayal of one’s conscience. If the Republican Party survives such un-American acts by its members, it will be in name only. And the conservative philosophies it claims to cherish will struggle to get an honest hearing during debates over every law the Congress seeks to enact.

That might satisfy some liberals. But it’s not President Biden’s vision of truth, justice, and American democracy.

Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.

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