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Win Or Lose, Liz Cheney's Legacy In American History Will Be Non Sibi Sed Patriae

In this op-ed, Tom Sadler reflects on Wyoming's Republican primary and what Lincoln, Roosevelt, Ike and Reagan would make of Harriet Hageman

US Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming at a bill-signing event in The White House with President Donald Trump in 2017.  Photo courtesy
US Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming at a bill-signing event in The White House with President Donald Trump in 2017. Photo courtesy

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nearly every issue with social consequences in our world is political and today in America, most of them are partisan. Mountain Journal is non partisan. We do not endorse parties or candidates but we are pro-democracy and, in fact, prioritized in the very first paragraph of Article One of the Constitution are freedom of speech and of the press. One important sacred role of the media is fact-checking.  In the essay, below, from Mountain Journal's Washington, DC-correspondent Tom Sadler (who happens to have an extensive legislative background in the past working with Republicans on Capitol Hill), he makes the following observation that there can't be any common sense discussions about environmental and social issues without a functioning democracy.  The outcome of the Liz Cheney vs. Harriet Hageman Republican primary in Wyoming has implications not only for their party and the country, but consequences for conservation that is today the foundation of what we see today in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Moreover, Cheney has a home in Wilson, Wyoming, located at the base of the Tetons in western Jackson Hole. Sadler has penned the following op-ed from his perspective as a "green sportsman Republican."

In our country, we don’t swear an oath to an individual or a political party” Rep, Liz Cheney said. We take our oath to defend the United States Constitution, and that oath means something.” —Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, co-chair of the House January 6 Committee in a statement being held against her by her opponent in the state's Republican primary held August 16, 2022.

Opinion by Tom Sadler

With those words above, Liz Cheney, the incumbent Republican Congresswoman from Wyoming, gave voice and substance to the Latin phrase, non sibi sed patriae, which translates to "not for self, but for country."

Because of my time serving in the Navy, the phrase non sibi sed patriae holds special meaning for me. You will find it inscribed over the chapel doors at the United States Naval Academy. 

I swore that oath to the constitution when I worked for Republican Warren Rudman of New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate. And I swore that oath again when I joined the Navy.  At the time of my commissioning, it meant I was willing to defend my country, even if it cost my life.

Only in kingdoms and regimes led by dictators do people swear allegiance to individuals and only in non-democratic nations does exercising free will and calling out corruption of corrupt autocrats bring with it violence.

While my life was never directly on the line in politics or my tenure with the Navy, the oath to defend my country was not limited to situations involving combat arms. For me, that oath meant doing what was best for the country even if it meant I might forgo some personal benefit. 

I’ve never considered breaking that oath because it’s a sacred trust between me and my fellow citizens. What makes America America is that sacred oath we share together no matter what side of the traditional political aisle we identify with. 
Former President Donald Trump and Harriet Hageman
Former President Donald Trump and Harriet Hageman
This week, all Americans who are concerned about the future of this country has their eyes set on Wyoming. If the Republican primary involving Ms. Cheney and Harriet Hageman, the challenger endorsed by former President Donald Trump goes the way polls suggest, the Republican Party, as it was known to Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan will be a memory. After that the Grand Old Party ought to rename itself The Trump Party because it would simplify and clarify things for the rest of us. In a recent New York Times story by reporter Jonathan Martin, the oldest living dean of Republicanism in Wyoming, former US Sen. Alan K. Simpson, was interviewed.

As a lifelong, and at one time an actual card-carrying Republican, I would bet Sen. Simpson believe the real RINOs—those “Republicans In Name Only”—are those who have subverted and destroyed the once proud party that was home to Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.  Like them or not, the patriotic values they stood for—having a functional Democracy even when they were on the losing side of issues—was never in question. 

While Republicans and Democrats didn’t always see eye to eye on policy issues, and things could get rhetorically testy, there was never a willingness by one party to tear the rest of the country apart in order for their policy to prevail. Progress made on environmental protection, social justice and civil rights has happened incrementally, not fast enough for many, but there has been a steady advancement. During the Reagan and Bush years, when I worked on Capitol Hill, the party focused on conservative values like the rule of law, strong defense and fiscal conservatism. Read the nonsense you see today from party blowhards and that version of the party is unrecognizable. The default decision-making-setting for them is opposition not unifying bi-partisan accomplishment which is the only kind that endures.

Even when Republican members of Congressional Delegations from the red state West pushed back against such things as wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone or wilderness designation or granting more latitude to bison coming out of Yellowstone into Montana, there was never any question that framing the debates was respect for the rule of law.

The GOP of today, under the influence of former President Trump, has drifted far away from statesmanship and comity. In the recent New York Times story about Wyoming , mentioned above, by reporter Martin, former US Sen. Alan K. Simpson put it this way:

“We were a very powerful delegation, and we worked with the other side, that was key, because you couldn’t function if you didn’t,” recalled Mr. Simpson, now 90, fresh off being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and as tart-tongued as ever about his ancestral party. “My dad was senator and a governor, and if I ran again today as a Republican I’d get my ass beat — it’s not about heritage.”

People like Sen. Simpson took their licks when the administrations of Democrats serving in The White House or when Democrats had majorities in the Senate and House, but they never painted them as enemies of the republic, nor did they gloat when things went their way.

We used to hear words like statesmanship used as an expression of reverence and honor. You saw it visible in the friendships formed between Sen. Simpson and his friends in the Democratic Party like Teddy Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sam Nunn of Georgia and good working relationships with long-serving politicians like Max Baucus of Montana. If you don’t know what the word “comity” means, look it up—it used to be used much more frequently on Capitol Hill.

In 2018, Liz Cheney was still a darling of the Republican Party in Wyoming which has since excommunicated her. Four years ago, Cheney's Trump-backed challenger Harriet Hageman stumped for Cheney, touting her political conservative credentials.  Photo courtesy Liz Cheney public Facebook page
In 2018, Liz Cheney was still a darling of the Republican Party in Wyoming which has since excommunicated her. Four years ago, Cheney's Trump-backed challenger Harriet Hageman stumped for Cheney, touting her political conservative credentials. Photo courtesy Liz Cheney public Facebook page
Only a few weeks ago, Sen. Simpson was rightfully awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his service to America and bringing his views as a Westerner to Washington DC. Normally, you would expect a Republican president to bestow the honor on a Republican legend, but it came from President Joe Biden, a Democrat with whom Simpson served. Think about that. 

Like or dislike her, agree with her environmental policies or vehemently disagree, praise her father—former Vice President, US Defense Secretary and Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney—or curse him, but Liz Cheney has put her career on the line for country rather than genuflecting to anti-American values espoused by our former president. 

The Cheneys understand history, just as Simpson and all of those mentioned above, including the GOP presidents did—save for Trump who proudly says he doesn’t read books, except apparently, a memoir written by Dick Cheney, which Trump panned scathingly in the video below. (Click all the way thru to youtube). 

For readers here—members of the Trump Party—who claim that Ms. Cheney has betrayed America, including her opponent Harriet Hageman, by co-chairing the January 6 Committee, ask yourselves this: What if the attack on the Capitol and the revelations and evidence relating to the attempted coup were linked to Democrats? What would Trump's defenders, including some members of the media in Wyoming, be saying then? 

Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus of The Cowboy State Daily—founded with a major contribution from Republican billionaire Trump supporter, the late Foster Friess, wrote: "Personally, I am inclined to vote for Hageman because it is easy to get tired of all the anti-Trump drama created by Cheney. It might be nice to have a representative who just does her job working for us and is not pushing a national agenda."

Many people tout that they are allegedly faithful to the Constitution, but few these days understands what it means. I was reminded of this recently by an op-ed in the New York Times written by seven four-star Admirals and Generals.

“We each took an oath as former leaders of the armed forces to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," they wrote. "We fulfilled that oath through service to civilian leadership elected by and accountable to the American people. This essential arrangement, however, is not self-executing; it relies on civilian leaders equally committed to protecting and defending the Constitution — including, most important, the commander in chief.”

Their op-ed ends with this: “The lesson of that day [Jan. 6, 2022] is clear. Our democracy is not a given. To preserve it, Americans must demand nothing less from their leaders than an unassailable commitment to country over party — and to their oaths above all.”

Tom Sadler
Tom Sadler
Cheney, who was counted among the most strident neo-conservatives in America, has staked her political future on democracy. She was stripped of her leadership position in the House, repudiated by the Wyoming GOP and yet she persists, unbowed. She is courageous to do so. She should be admired and applauded for her actions, actions she stands squarely and forthrightly behind. What’s amazing is she is likely to lose her reelection bid to be Wyoming’s lone representative.

What is going on in the Cowboy State? Has the party of Simpson and Malcolm Wallop and Jim Geringer and Matt Mead and Cliff Hansen abandoned reason for MAGA politics? That is not the Wyoming I’ve known and loved.  Equally as important is what’s behind the deafening silence from Wyoming’s currently serving US Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and its Gov. Mark Gordon? What values do they put first? 

Let us add in those from  neighboring Montana—US Sen. Steve Daines, Congressman Matt Rosendale and Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte as well as members of Idaho’s delegation and governor. When Cheney said, “There will come a day when President Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain” those folks are well advised to heed her warning. 

A quarter century from now, when people look back, whose actions will be worth touting in our history books? Who stood up when it mattered most? Who were the real patriots?

There are two pieces in MoJo worthy of mentioning here—one about Simpson’s reaction to January 6 and another about former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot coming together with Democratic rival Dorothy Bradley in the radical middle for the good of this country, which desperately needs healing. 

I can tell you this: those sowing the fiction of a stolen election do not deserve calling themselves patriots nor will they ever deserve being considered for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Who is that masked man? Former President Dick Cheney, whom his daughter praised for taking precautions to protect himself from Covid. Photo courtesy Liz Cheney public Facebook page
Who is that masked man? Former President Dick Cheney, whom his daughter praised for taking precautions to protect himself from Covid. Photo courtesy Liz Cheney public Facebook page
As a lifelong Republican, I am grieving. I’ve had plenty of disagreements and arguments with Democrats but I’ve never doubted their shared commitment to the good of this country. It’s also no secret I disagree with much of Cheney’s environmental and some of her social policy views. But here’s the thing: without a functioning representative democracy, there won’t be any environmental or social policy discussions. It will be dictates, not discussion. It will be policy by decree from an authoritarian leadership and, at least in recent years, an increasingly theocratic one. 

Hageman, who prevailed in the primary, hates the idea of public lands, the federal government and environmental regulation and has vowed to be industry's champion in turning back man decades of  bi-partisan conservation achievements that have made America a leader in the world.

Cheney, who has demonstrated her support for democracy, is paying the price for that support, and I for one believe that mitigates against any policy differences I may have with her. In a functioning democracy, we can agree to disagree and not take it personally.

I plan to talk more about Cheney’s importance soon with Mountain Journal founder Todd Wilkinson in a regular column he and I pen together. The lesson Cheney is teaching is one that desperately needs to be heeded by members of both parties, some of whom have put themselves or party ahead of country.

I can tell you this: Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan and Bush would not countenance the kidnapping of their party and it being held hostage by a demagogue. One wonders if those who voted for Harriet Hageman understand the meaning of non sibi sed patriae let alone being able to even pronounce it. 

Having toiled for more than 40 years in our nation’s capital doing both politics and policy I’m devasted to see our government become the equivalent of a nationwide political reality television show. As my learned sister remarked to me recently, “It would be funny, if it wasn’t so sad.” She is right, of course.  To Liz, who is on the trail of truth, I say: “Godspeed.”

Tom Sadler
About Tom Sadler

Tom Sadler is Mountain Journal's national correspondent in Washington DC who will be exploring stories important for Greater Yellowstone and the West that emanate from the American seat of government. Sadler, besides being a writer, has worked as a Congressional staffer, professional fly-fishing guide and conservationist, environmental policy researcher and was head of the Outdoor Writers of America Association. 
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