Dear Senator Mitt Romney,

You might find this letter surprising. I’m guessing you don’t get much correspondence from my demographic: the middle class, white liberal voters of Austin, Texas. To be honest, I am surprised to find myself writing to you. Yet here I am, feeling compelled to thank you for your vote last week to hold President Trump accountable for his egregious abuse of power. I hope you will allow me to explain myself.

I was raised in a Christian family right here in Austin. My father is Catholic, my mother Baptist, and I attended a Baptist school and church. For a while in my teens and twenties, I gave up religion altogether. But then I fell in love with a Jewish man, and I converted to his faith in 2005, the year we got married. Last year I celebrated my bat mitzvah at the age of 42. We are raising two children (Sander, age 11, and Lyla, age 8) with the understanding that they will earn their first phones only after they complete the requirements for their bar and bat mitzvah, respectively.

I will admit, there are times when I wonder why we go through all the trouble. My husband and I both work and our children have plenty of school and extracurricular commitments; it is not easy to factor in Shabbat dinners on Friday nights, let alone religious school on Sundays and Wednesdays. We know plenty of families who do not participate in any organized religious activities, and their children seem just fine. And yet, I when I converted, I promised that I would raise any children that I might someday have as Jews. So here I am, baking challah on Fridays and preparing to celebrate yet another holiday that none of our Gentile friends and family understands (Tu Bishvat, aka “Jewish Arbor Day”). As a father yourself, and a member of a minority religion, I wonder if you can relate.

This looks like a dad who would call his kids when it’s time to vote and change the clocks.

Unlike you, I’m not from a political family, but my parents always encouraged me to think about voting in elections as a necessary part of a good and moral life. When I went off to college in another state, my dad even sent me newspaper clippings about the local politics in my area. I could always count on him to call or email me twice a year, in May and November, to remind me to vote.[1] I assumed I would do the same for my kids. And yet, I find that it is increasingly difficult to instill in my children a sense of civic virtue.

I will never forget the awful feeling of deciding not to let my kids stay up late to watch Donald Trump debate Hilary Clinton on TV, because I was too afraid of the mean tone and language they would almost certainly be exposed to. Since the 2016 election, teachers at my kids’ elementary school have used our president as an example of cyberbullying. And it’s not just him — it seems all the processes that I learned to associate with the health of our democracy have been corrupted by partisan politics and general ineptitude. After the painful spectacle of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, it is hard for me to imagine drumming up my children’s interest in the Supreme Court like my father used to, even though I followed my dad into the legal profession. Just last Monday, we sat around the dinner table watching a New York Times infographic about the Iowa caucuses, me trying desperately to promote the idea that this is how democracy works, kids! Isn’t it fascinating? Only to wake up the next morning and find the whole thing was an epic, technology-enabled human failure.

It’s hard not to give in to cynicism and apathy, but I fight that urge, for Sander and Lyla’s sake. I don’t want them to think that this is normal. I worry about what will happen if this generation grows up without any faith in our system of government or its leaders. To be honest, sometimes I find this idea more frightening than the idea of my children growing up without faith in God. When I think of my childhood, I’m grateful for my religious upbringing not because I learned to believe in God but because of the Bible stories I heard over and over again, stories that provided a whole spectrum of complex heroes, antiheroes, protagonists, antagonists, and every shade in between. I think that children learn through stories how to relate to other people and make choices in a complicated world, and I love to tell my children stories from the real world that I think illustrate how human beings make hard choices about right and wrong. To that end, I can already sense that the story of Senator Mitt Romney is one I’ll be telling my children again and again.

Your decision last Wednesday to vote with your conscience, rather than your party affiliation, gave me hope that there are still elected officials courageous enough to make unpopular decisions when our national interest is at stake. Your public statements lead me to believe that you made your choice based on a lifetime of religious and spiritual teachings, and the wisdom that those traditions can bring to those who are open to learning. And so, your decision also made me feel good about raising my children in a religion.

I can only imagine what it feels like to be you right now. The word you used to describe the political backlash you might experience, “unimaginable,” seemed calculated to express that you were not weighing the risks but simply doing what you believed to be your duty. I believe you did the right thing, and I admire you for it. I hope it may provide a little comfort to know that when I tell my children this particular story, I will say, “Mitt Romney is a mensch.”

Sincerely,

Sarah Orman

[1] He did the same when it was time to change the clocks for Daylight Savings, bless his heart.

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Sarah Orman

“Examining my own life, describing it in detail, exposing it ruthlessly" - Henry Miller