Editorial: On eve of Lincoln's birthday, a reminder to rise above the bitterness
Last week was a particularly ugly one in American politics.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump gave a State of the Union address that will be remembered less for its content than for the theatrics from both sides that accompanied it. The day after, the Senate ended a bitter impeachment trial by acquitting the president. Then, in the days that followed, both sides hurled insults -- with many of the president's supporters turning their anger toward Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the only Republican to cross party lines and vote to convict Trump on abuse of power.
The punishment of those who dared to question the president's actions with regard to Ukraine was just beginning, however. In what was quickly dubbed the "Friday night massacre," two key impeachment witnesses -- Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Gordon Sondland -- were fired. Vindman was removed from his National Security Council post and reassigned, along with his twin brother, to the Department of the Army.
Just days ago, we called for unity in the aftermath of a difficult and divisive week. Today, on the day before the birthday of Abraham Lincoln -- the first and, arguably, most beloved Republican president -- we ask members of the GOP to distance themselves from the personal attacks on those who stood up to Trump. We ask them to denounce firings rooted in vengeance. We ask them to discourage talk of tossing Romney from the party, to stand up for his right to vote as he believes -- even if they disagree with how he chose to cast it.
Keeping politicians and staff members in line is how both parties operate at times, and Democrats are not immune to this behavior. Bucking Democratic Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, for example, can be a career-ending decision for state politicians.
But what's deeply concerning about last week's taunts and actions is how vitriolic -- and sadly expected -- it has all become. And how quickly some of the president's supporters have been to condone, even encourage, vindictive behavior.
Consider, for example, a call from a Utah lawmaker who announced Thursday that he filed a resolution to censure Romney, and pay careful attention to his justification.
"We're not censuring him for voting his conscience. We're censuring him for the positions that he's taken through this whole process," State Rep. Phil Lyman said. "And to send a message that we want to have good relationships with the White House, we want to have good relationships with President Donald Trump."
Clearly, Lyman and others are sending the message that personal loyalty to the president is more important than a sense of honor and duty -- more important than acting on your conscience. On that point, Vindman's attorney David Pressman offered an ominous forecast in a statement following his client's firing.
"In this country right matters, and so does truth," Pressman wrote. "Truth is not partisan. If we allow truthful voices to be silenced, if we ignore their warnings, eventually there will be no one left to warn us."
We echo his concern. And as Lincoln once did, we look toward a time when we are all "touched ... by the better angels of our nature."