The word “patriot” has fallen into egregious misuse lately.
It has been taken up by people who seem unaware of the country’s actual constitutional values. It has been applied to criminals who invaded the Capitol and threatened to hang the vice president. It has been claimed by those who seem to think it means only the love of themselves and their closest ideological friends. It is adopted almost uniformly on the authoritarian, insurrectionist fringe.
It calls to mind the famous words of Inigo Montoya in William Goldman’s classic, “The Princess Bride”: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Jaime Herrera Beutler, though, knows what it means. Last week, as she displayed to the cowardly members of her party what it means to act with courage and conviction, she used that word pointedly to challenge them to do the same. She called on “patriots” with information about the former president’s phone calls during the Capitol insurrection, including the former vice president himself, to step forward and offer that information.
None of them – not one – answered her call.
Naturally, Beutler has been made a pariah in some quarters of the GOP. As the party tries to move ahead – with its sober, business-community, national-defense faction forced to mud-wrestle its QAnon, Trump-worshipping, Jewish-space-lasers cultists – we should all hope that Beutler and the few others like her will become the face of the party’s tomorrow. Because I’m not sure the country can survive any more of the party’s yesterday.
Herrera Beutler was one of two Washington Republican members of the House – not ours – who acquitted themselves with honor following the riots and the impeachment. Both voted to impeach President Trump in the House, among the 10 who did so.
“After days of deliberation and prayer, I made a decision to vote based on my oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Rep. Dan Newhouse said by way of explanation. “Many Republicans have agreed with my vote, and many have disagreed. For those who disagree with me on this issue, I hope they will remember my lifelong support for conservative causes and values.”
Their votes earned them a rebuke from the Washington State Republican Party, as well as several other county GOP organizations, who prefer cult-like uniformity to deliberation and prayerful courage. Talk about your cancel culture – principled Republicans being battered about by their local parties everywhere has been common across the country.
In an interesting exception to this rule, the Utah GOP issued a statement celebrating the split votes on impeachment from Sen. Mitt Romney (voting to convict on principle) and Sen. Mike Lee (voting to acquit on fealty) as a sign of the party’s strength.
“Our senators have both been criticized for their vote,” the Utah GOP wrote. “The differences between our own Utah Republicans showcase a diversity of thought, in contrast to the danger of a party fixated on ‘unanimity of thought.’ There is power in our differences as a political party, and we look forward to each senator explaining their votes to the people of Utah.”
By the lights of today’s party, that kind of talk is just nuts.
The exceptionally admirable thing about Herrera Beutler was what she did after the state party’s rebuke – she put herself in the bright hot center of the impeachment story, by speaking out publicly with information damaging to her party’s president.
Talk about courage.
Herrera Beutler had been told by Rep. Kevin McCarthy about a phone call with the former president during the rioting. Herrera Beutler stepped forward as the Senate moved toward a baked-in acquittal last week to relay the story of that conversation, as she had done earlier to The Longview Daily News.
In a statement released publicly last Friday, she reiterated that McCarthy had told her he asked then-President Donald Trump to call off the riot, and that Trump responded that antifa was to blame.
“McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters,” she said. “That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said, ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’ ”
It’s the trick of the Trump era that you keep thinking you’re at the bottom, the deepest, ugliest nadir, only to find the sewer is actually deeper.
She made it clear she would testify, and in the end, put her comments on the record in the trial. As she did this, Herrera Beutler called on others in her party, directly and without equivocation, to take their hands off their eyes, ears and mouths and act like people who love their country.
“To the patriots who were standing next to the former president as these conversations were happening, or even to the former vice president: if you have something to add here, now would be the time,” she tweeted.
No one took her up on it.
This put her at the top of the news for a couple of days. Lots of “Who is Jaime Herrera Beutler?” stories ran in newspapers across the country. In normal times, one would think that what she did – providing factual details as a witness and sworn member of Congress in an impeachment inquiry – would not seem so incredible.
In normal times, doing your duty might be, well, more normal.
In the context of this moment, though, it was heroic. If it earned her the scorn of her party, it also earned her the true and accurate title of patriot.