Something in in the air stinks. No, it’s not the delightful scent with overtones of boiled egg wafting in from the great Salt Lake, nor is it our EPA-rated-dangerous air. It’s an odd scent, one that people on the political left in Utah are familiar with and have come to recognize as omnipresent. That smell is the purposeful obtuseness, likely motivated for partisan reasons, of some Utah elected officials who are unwilling to publicly address the obvious counterarguments to their narratives.
Take, for example, Rep. Chris Stewart, who rightly says that Robert Mueller’s investigation should continue, but who goes against U.S. intelligence findings — and Vladimir Putin’s admission — in saying that it’s not clear whom Russia was supporting in the 2016 election. When Stewart’s constituents expressed concern about Trump, Stewart said he would defend Trump against impeachment proceedings and suggested that his constituents want to impeach Trump simply because they don’t like him.
Now, while impeachment may be premature, Stewart’s inability to even address the underlying reasons some constituents are calling for impeachment of the man he himself once called “our Mussolini” is understandably frustrating. Not only has Stewart chosen to ignore the legitimate concerns of his constituents, some of which he shared before the 2016 election, but he’s also attempting to embarrass dissenters in his constituency. He cleverly does this by making it look as if they are using hyperbolic arguments rather than addressing their very real concerns, even if he does not concede that Trump should be impeached.
Sen. Orrin Hatch’s recent op-ed in the Daily Beast about the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is another example of a Utah politician attempting to render real and genuine concerns illegitimate by using straw man arguments. It does a great disservice to his long history as a senator who has worked across the aisle and found bipartisan compromise.
In his op-ed, not once did he mention the name of Judge Merrick Garland, who was denied even the semblance of consideration by Hatch’s party for an entire year after President Obama’s nomination of Garland to the Supreme Court. To speak from his position of leadership in such a sarcastic way about the frustrations of the left regarding the SCOTUS, and to not even give a nod to the underlying reasons why the left might be upset — namely, a stolen SCOTUS seat — reeks of a political bourgeois — or “swampy,” if you will — attitude.
Further, Hatch — Sen. Civility himself — wittingly made his critics, and the loud voices in the Democratic party, appear outrageous when he outlined concerns described in an open letter about the Kavanaugh nomination from a group of Yale students and professors. The letter states that “people will die if [Kavanaugh] is confirmed.” It is disheartening that Hatch ignores the obvious line of logic being presented in this letter — that a conservative SCOTUS could start chipping away at a woman’s right to choose, which could lead to tighter restrictions on abortion, which could lead to more abortions performed without the care of a doctor, which would lead to an increase in deaths — and instead makes the outrageous assertion that these Yale students and professors believe Kavanaugh is going to commit mass murders himself.
Hatch knows better, and we know as much because only a couple of months ago he called out “identity politics” — considered by many on the right to be the downfall of the left — as tribalism by another name. What are elected officials like Stewart and Hatch playing at if not politically motivated tribalism in an election year, when they engage in hyperbole, patronizing comments and straw-man arguments in an effort to obfuscate legitimate concerns of constituents?
This commentary by Katie Matheson, Better Utah Communications Director, originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune.