SALT LAKE CITY — Perhaps no political figure, outside of the presidential and vice presidential nominees (and Amy Coney Barrett), has received more criticism this year than Mitt Romney. His impeachment vote and critiques of President Trump sparked uproar from the right; his role in clearing the way for a conservative majority on the Supreme Court has drawn ire from the left and center. As Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker empathetically wrote last month, Romney is “the guy who can’t please anyone, and who, unbeknownst to most, is humble enough to accept that fate.”
But if his constituents — and the rest of America, for that matter — are humble enough to accept it, Romney’s latest comments show that he and we are on the exact same page, at least on one issue.
In a statement posted to Twitter Tuesday, Romney decried the “vile, vituperative, and hate-filled morass” that American politics has become. He called out a number of politicians and media members on both the right and the left and pleaded to “lower the heat.” And with the presidential election already underway, he warned that the rest of “the world is watching America with abject horror.”
My thoughts on the current state of our politics: pic.twitter.com/oYY4zlX6ZP— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) October 13, 2020
The rest of the world, sure — but many Americans at home, too, fill that “horrified” camp. Directly following the presidential debate two weeks ago, New York Times columnist David Brooks said he was “the most horrified I’ve been in my career as a political journalist,” and many of us felt similar. This election cycle, already battered by a pandemic, economic chaos and social unrest, has been bruised by vicious dialogue and incivility.
Americans crave something different. A recent poll performed by Scott Rasmussen found that 93% of Americans want our leaders to focus on bringing us together. How we get there is where partisan divisions emerge. The desire for unity, though, is near unanimous, and Romney seems to recognize that.
Perhaps the cohort hit hardest by political divisiveness is those who are too young to vote — Utah’s youth. The highlight of last week’s vice presidential debate, per my taste, was a question submitted by Springville eighth grader Brecklynn Brown: “When I watch the news all I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans,” she said. “If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?”
America’s young people are being raised in a climate soured by political toxicity, and as political discussions find their way into homes, that rhetoric cannot be mirrored. Data from the recent American Family Survey showed that more couples are discussing politics with each other than ever, and two-thirds involve their children in those discussions. Young people like Brecklynn, who used to remain fairly oblivious to politics, now turn on the TV and are force-fed tribalism. “When I watch the news,” she wrote, “all I see are two candidates from opposing parties trying to tear each other down.”
Support Romney or not, we can all agree with his latest statement. Our current political climate, he argued, “is unbecoming of any free nation — let alone the birthplace of modern democracy.” Far more important than debating what a democracy is, and rehashing middle-school civics lessons, is understanding the politicization that has now seeped down to our middle-schoolers. Divisiveness has sunk far too deep.
When he calls for civility on both sides of the aisle, Romney is speaking for all of us, regardless of our political ideology. He’s allowing principle to trump policy, and those who’ve questioned his stances or ideas in the past — myself included — can respect that.
After a year of sporadic vilification from all sides of the political spectrum, Romney might finally be rewinning fans.