Until last week, Mitt Romney seemed an unlikely hero.

For many people, the 72-year-old incumbent U.S. Senator from Utah (and the 2012 GOP candidate for U.S. President) personified personal wealth, white privilege and lifelong adherence to a rigid Republican political philosophy.

But in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Romney broke ranks with his fellow GOP senators and voted to convict the president on the first of two articles of impeachment brought by the House of Representatives: Abuse of Power.

Since doing so he has been nearly buried under a harsh and venal avalanche of political and personal avarice.

A fusillade of steaming-hot angry rhetoric has been fired at Romney from the GOP and frenzied members of the public, all reported in news reports and smeared across social media.

But Romney really should be lauded as a thoughtful patriot, not treated as a pariah.

The former governor of Massachusetts exhibited three things too rare in today’s politics — courage, conviction and conscience.

He was fully aware fellow GOP senators and others would view his vote as a betrayal of the current Republican groupthink gripping the party. It does not permit any divergence from the dictated party line — and punishes transgressors.

Yet Romney voted his conscience and explained his reasoning in great detail to his colleagues and the nation. He cited his religious faith repeatedly, explaining it was extremely hard for him to vote for impeachment, but he had no choice.

It demonstrates how skewed politics have become that his single vote for conviction — which clearly would not alter the outcome of Trump’s trial — could draw such intense wrath. It even prompted some crass critics to claim Romney was hiding behind his Mormon religious beliefs as an excuse to give Trump some political payback.

The overwrought response to Romney’s vote — as uncomfortable as it will be for the senator — will hopefully fade, along with the breathless headlines. In the long run, history will remember him much more fondly than his frothing detractors.

But the big takeaway from Romney’s vote should be that conscience still counts. So does speaking up when things need to be said or done, regardless of potential fallout.

In the Finger Lakes we have plenty of examples of people who have stuck their political and personal necks out for things they believed in.

Seneca Falls and the historic struggles for women’s equality come to mind right away. The ire and even physical abuse heaped on leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony was vicious, minus the social media, of course.

But the women persevered.

In recent years, hundreds of people were arrested while peacefully protesting Crestwood Midstream’s proposal to store millions of gallons of liquid propane gas in salt caverns. They drew plenty of personal, caustic criticism for their well-intentioned actions.

Today citizens have to decide how much to speak up about many Finger Lakes issues, including the planned 2025 closure of the Seneca Meadows Landfill and the increasingly dangerous industrial and agricultural pollution threatening the water quality of Seneca Lake.

Speaking up about these issues might not seem to rise to the level of what Mitt Romney did voting to impeach an incumbent U.S. President facing reelection.

But it still takes a healthy dose of the same kind of courage, conviction and conscience he showed when taking an unpopular stand is almost guaranteed to draw strident disagreement from others and knowing that the disagreement will be very disagreeably stated.

If it needs to be said, say it.

Fitzgerald has worked at six newspapers as a writer and editor as well as a correspondent for two news services. He splits his time between Valois, NY and Pt. Richmond, CA. You can email him at Michael.Fitzgeraldfltcolumnist@gmail.com and visit his website at michaeljfitzgerald.blogspot.com.

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