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Opinion: Mitt Romney thinks Americans are in denial. What does this mean for America — and his career?

Mitt Romney called out Americans for our lack of action on critical issues. Will his method be effective, or has he alienated too many?

SHARE Opinion: Mitt Romney thinks Americans are in denial. What does this mean for America — and his career?
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is interviewed in Oljato-Monument Valley, San Juan County.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, pictured on Friday, May 27, 2022. Romney’s recent op-ed in the Atlantic about American denialism has many discussing the implications.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

On July 4, the prestigious Atlantic magazine published an article, “America is in Denial,” by Mitt Romney. Because he is Utah’s junior senator, a former Republican presidential nominee and one of the better-known members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his thought-provoking essay deserves some analysis — especially because he was probably talking about us.

Romney’s article captured plenty of local and national attention. He was critical of Americans in general, and especially partisan Democrats and Republicans, accusing pretty much all of us of being in denial with our “blithe dismissal of potentially cataclysmic threats,” including debt, immigration and global warming. Joseph BidenDonald Trump and Congress were special targets of his wrath. He hopes for a future president who can unite the country. Until then, all of us must “grasp the mantle of leadership.” Is he correct, or a little too harsh?

Pignanelli“Americans learn only from catastrophe and not from experience.” — Theodore Roosevelt  

Romney’s admonitions mirror lectures children receive from parents: Do not procrastinate because that just makes the task harder. The senator, an accomplished former businessman and governor who never shied from challenges, lists realistic concerns that need response.

But Americans have always been in denial with a “natural inclination toward wishful thinking.” Unrealistic is a kind description of our founders who gambled that a motley crew of colonial farmers could defeat the world’s largest military and economic power. Other examples include noninterventionists in both political parties who were borderline irresponsible by ignoring foreign events that led to both world wars.

Polls indicate that most Americans comprehend the major issues that confront them and their children. But we are suspicious of officials demanding changes to our lifestyle until necessary. Understanding this national character trait, Romney correctly illustrates “a crisis can shake the public consciousness.”

History documents that once Americans decide action is needed, nothing stops us. Yet, the momentum must be organic and percolating from the average citizen. This is how all the great movements of our country succeeded (i.e. abolitionism, Prohibition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, etc.) Great leaders who can point the way out of our current mess are forthcoming, but only because hardy followers are ready.

Although Romney’s counseling is important, we must remember that all parents were once children who procrastinated.

Webb: I just hope the lawns at the various Romney mansions are brown and dead. Otherwise, someone is going to look hypocritical.

I like Sen. Romney. I think he’s mostly an effective senator who focuses on serious issues and gets things done. And I don’t mind being chewed out by him. He’s right that I don’t do enough to solve climate change, the immigration crisis and the burgeoning federal debt. After all, in the winter I feed my cows alfalfa, one of those “water-thirsty crops” Romney decries. And we get a lot of those evil “daily Amazon deliveries.” I’m glad my wife joins me in our denialship.

Romney is correct that the nation’s isn’t facing up to some serious problems. But it’s never a good idea for a politician, especially a wealthy aristocratic one, who is often called elitist, to get up on his high horse and lecture American citizens like they are naughty children. It never works.

Romney’s essay reminded me of Jimmy Carter’s famous “malaise” speech in 1979 during a serious energy crisis. Carter lamented that Americans showed a “crisis of confidence” that “strikes at the very heart and soul of our national will,” threatening to “destroy the social and political fabric of America.” He said Americans “worship self-indulgence and consumption.” He cited a litany of serious problems and asked Americans to sacrifice more.  

The very next year, Carter lost in a landslide to Ronald Reagan, who saw a “shining city on a hill” instead of insurmountable problems. Today, Romney sees a “national malady of denial, deceit and distrust.”

Romney’s probably right that we won’t solve those big problems until we’re forced to. That’s sorta the way we do things, especially at the federal level. In the meantime, my pocketbook would vote for fewer of those Amazon deliveries.

Romney‘s approval rating dramatically increased in the last year. But he has yet to declare intentions for reelection. Is this article a sounding board for 2024, or the beginning of a farewell?

Pignanelli: Most Utah senators have fostered controversy in some form, and Romney is no exception. The rebound in approval ratings reflects a respect for his willingness to undertake tough decisions. Recent actions (i.e. fundraisers, this article) indicate he is in the contemplative mode, possibly weighing midterm election results.

Webb: My best guess is that Romney will seek reelection in 2024 and probably win. But he has made it much harder for himself by alienating many Utah Republicans who still like Trump. I understand Romney’s visceral dislike of Trump. I don’t like Trump either. But I do have a problem with politicians who make no effort to really understand those many millions of hardworking, patriotic, salt-of-the-earth, heartland Americans (many of my neighbors) who do support Trump.

Romney should get out in Utah’s heartland and talk to some small-town folks about why they grow alfalfa and why they support Trump. If those folks had not been ignored, misread and alienated for many years by the elitist, establishment, erudite, politically correct ruling class, Trump would never have been elected.    

Misunderstanding heartland Americans is why Democrats are going to get clobbered in November. It’s why Romney will have difficulty in 2024 when he seeks reelection.

What have other members of our congressional delegation had to say about critical issues?

Pignanelli: Sen. Mike Lee is the most prolific while serving in office. He authored several well-written books regarding the Constitution, along with treatises in various publications, that impacted conservative deliberations. Chris Stewart was a well-known writer prior to public service. He and fellow members of Utah’s congressional delegation have all penned op-eds on various issues.

Webb: Utah’s other members of Congress have all written essays on various topics. But because they’re not outwardly anti-Trump, they don’t enjoy the bully media pulpit as does Romney. The traditional media love to provide a forum for Trump-hating Republicans. 

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant. Email:lwebb@exoro.com.

Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.